ArticlePDF Available

The Urbanization of drone warfare: policing surplus populations in the dronepolis



This paper explores the urbanization of drone warfare and the securitization of the “surplus population”. Defined as a bloc of humanity rendered as structurally unnecessary to a capital-intensive economy, the surplus population is an emerging target for the post-welfare security state. If we now live in an age of a permanent conflict with uncertain geographies, then it is at least partly fueled by this endemic crisis at the heart of the capitalist world system. Of key significance is the contradictory nature of the surplus population. The “security threat” generated by replacing masses of workers with nonhumans is increasingly managed by policing humans with robots, drones, and other apparatuses. In other words, the surplus population is both the outcome and target of contemporary capitalist technics. The emerging “dronification of state violence” across a post-9∕11 battlespace has seen police drones deployed to the urban spaces of cities in Europe and North America. The drone, with its ability to swarm in the streets of densely packed urban environments, crystallizes a more intimate and invasive form of state power. The project of an atmospheric, dronified form of policing not only embodies the technologization of state security but also entrenches the logic of a permanent, urbanized manhunt. The paper concludes by discussing the rise of the dronepolis: the city of the drone.
Geogr. Helv., 71, 19–28, 2016
© Author(s) 2016. CC Attribution 3.0 License.
The Urbanization of drone warfare: policing surplus
populations in the dronepolis
Ian G. R. Shaw
School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, The University of Glasgow, G12 8QQ, Glasgow, UK
Correspondence to: Ian G. R. Shaw (
Received: 9 September 2015 – Revised: 22 December 2015 – Accepted: 26 January 2016 – Published: 15 February 2016
Abstract. This paper explores the urbanization of drone warfare and the securitization of the “surplus popu-
lation”. Defined as a bloc of humanity rendered as structurally unnecessary to a capital-intensive economy, the
surplus population is an emerging target for the post-welfare security state. If we now live in an age of a per-
manent conflict with uncertain geographies, then it is at least partly fueled by this endemic crisis at the heart of
the capitalist world system. Of key significance is the contradictory nature of the surplus population. The “se-
curity threat” generated by replacing masses of workers with nonhumans is increasingly managed by policing
humans with robots, drones, and other apparatuses. In other words, the surplus population is both the outcome
and target of contemporary capitalist technics. The emerging “dronification of state violence” across a post-9/11
battlespace has seen police drones deployed to the urban spaces of cities in Europe and North America. The
drone, with its ability to swarm in the streets of densely packed urban environments, crystallizes a more intimate
and invasive form of state power. The project of an atmospheric, dronified form of policing not only embodies
the technologization of state security but also entrenches the logic of a permanent, urbanized manhunt. The paper
concludes by discussing the rise of the dronepolis: the city of the drone.
1 Introduction
This paper is driven by the intersection or collision of
a growing number of surplus populations across the world
and the contemporary“dronification of state violence” (Shaw
and Akhter, 2014). While drones are now routinely used
as military technologies in the so-called peripheral spaces
of the planet Pakistan’s tribal areas, Yemen, Somalia,
Afghanistan, and the occupied Palestinian territories the
urbanized, capital-intensive metropolises of the Global North
are increasingly becoming targets of drone surveillance. Po-
lice forces are turning towards these robots for securing
the economic insecurities of the contemporary urban land-
scape. Accordingly, the goal of this paper is to consider
how and why drones will be used to police and pacify what
Marx (1990) first called “surplus populations” in the robo-
tizing economies of the Global North. Doing so, I suggest,
highlights what could be called the urbanization of drone
warfare: the rise of robotic manhunting in the cities of North
America and Europe. Indeed, the drone is set to become a
central technology for policing the fissiparous and paranoid
borders of the emerging dronepolis: the city of the drone.
“If the point of the war against terrorism”, argues
Davis (2004:15), “is to pursue the enemy into his sociologi-
cal and cultural labyrinth, then the poor peripheries of devel-
oping cities will be the permanent battlefields of the twenty-
first century”. Yet this geography of militarized peripheries
fails to account for how the urban landscapes of the Global
North, or the metropole, are always-already battlespaces,
striated by lives that are valued and lives that are disposable.
Discussing this colonial short circuit, Wall (2013:34) writes,
“The case of police drones speaks directly to the importation
of actual military and colonial architectures into the routine
spaces of the ‘homeland’, disclosing insidious entwinements
of war and police, metropole and colony, accumulation and
securitization.” Accordingly, we must account for the hyper-
proximate geographies of what McIntyre and Nast (2011)
call the biopolis and the necropolis: the city of the living and
the city of the socially dead. These segregated spaces, rather
than conforming to colonial divisions, or even national dis-
PublishedbyCopernicus Publicationsfor the Geographisch-EthnographischeGesellschaftZürich & Association Suisse de Géographie.
20 Ian G. R. Shaw: The urbanization of drone warfare
tinctions, now generate the conditions for a type of “every-
where war” (Gregory, 2011) within the cities of the Global
North. My purpose is not to privilege these homeland ge-
ographies but to show how the dronification of policing will
be inseparable from the growing numbers of surplus popu-
lations in Europe and North America. This paper thus ad-
vances established debates about the amorphous post-9/11
battlespace (Graham, 2010; Gregory, 2011; Shaw, 2013). But
it does so from a perspective that understands the surplus
population as both the outcome and target of contemporary
capitalist technics.
A spectre is haunting Europe”, declared Karl Marx and
Friedrich Engels in their famous nineteenth-century mani-
festo, “– the spectre of communism.” But other specters now
haunt Europe: the ghosts of the exiled and the disposable.
In the streets across Europe, in the shadows of skyscrap-
ers and shopping malls, one stumbles upon great blocs of
humanity unable to find work. For example, at the end of
2015, the 28 member nations of the EU had an average un-
employment rate of 9.1%, a figure that masks big regional
differences. In Spain and Greece, the unemployment rate in
2015 stood at 21.4 and 24.6%, respectively (Eurostat, 2015).
These people have been rendered superfluous to the socioe-
conomic order of things. As Davis (2004:11) puts it, “This
outcast proletariat – perhaps 1.5 billion today, 2.5 billion by
2030” – represents “a mass of humanity structurally and bio-
logically redundant to global accumulation and the corporate
matrix. Young persons are overrepresented, with approxi-
mately 21% of all under-25s without work in Europe. “Both
the evidence of recent trends and the evaluation of future
prospects”, writes Harvey (2014a:108), “point in one direc-
tion: massive surpluses of potentially restive redundant pop-
A proliferation of research has gone into describing the
“informal proletariat”, the “precariat”, the “new poor”, or
“neo-proletariat”. Such terms “connect more or less with
Marx’s project to identify the process that relegates a large
portion of the world’s population to irregular, insecure, tem-
porary and precarious forms of employment” (Neilson and
Stubbs, 2011:436). Research on surplus populations in hu-
man geography has focused on political issues surrounding
who lives, who dies, and who decides (Cowen and Siciliano,
2011; Tyner 2013). Other work has looked into the particular
spatial regimes of surplus populations (Gidwani and Reddy,
2011; McIntyre and Nast, 2011). While it may embody a
universalizing tendency in capitalism, the surplus population
produces and is policed by a distinct set of geographies
that are inseparable from the contradictions of the urban age.
The millions of people who are continually thrown outside
the formal economy the “restive redundant populations”
Harvey (2014a) discusses present a threat to continued
capital accumulation and social cohesion. The surplus pop-
ulation is thus becoming the site of increased (geo)political
importance in the Global North as national security threats
are tied to an outcast population (Tyner, 2013:708). Indeed,
these blocs of humanity frequently make their voices heard:
in the riots of London in 2011, the unrest in les banlieues in
Paris, or the ongoing protests across Greece. Unemployment
and inequality, even amongst conservative commentators, are
now viewed as threats to social stability. “Countries facing
high or rapidly rising youth unemployment”, warns the In-
ternational Labour Organization (2015:12), “are especially
vulnerable to social unrest. Accordingly, surplus lives are
becoming the object of intrusive forms of surveillance, secu-
ritization, and militarization. As the number of superfluous
persons increases”, observes Hudson (2011:1671), “the need
to contain them spatially increases, along with stricter, more
aggressive measures of social control. Indeed, the material,
psychological, and emotional shocks created by a robotizing
form of capitalism are generating immense insecurities that
are embodied in the urban ecologies of surplus populations.
For decades, these precarious and at times dangerous
milieus have been managed by various policing technologies,
from CCTV to patrol cars. In this sense, what John May-
nard Keynes first labelled as “technological unemployment”
is tied to the “technologization of security” (Ceyhan, 2008).
The helicopter, in particular, has enforced a vertical form
of security. As Adey (2010:52) argues, “megacity security
marches to the rotator-beat of the police helicopter, fuelled
by a military technophilia and in a context of the biopolitical
desertion of the city’s most vulnerable. Policing, of course,
has always been a spatial power. As Herbert (1997:13) ob-
serves, “the processes of internal pacification so central to the
authority of the modern state readily depend on the capacity
of the police to mark and enact meaningful boundaries, to re-
strict people’s capacity to act by regulating their movements
in space. Yet the drone age is colliding with the urban age
to produce a new, more intimate geography of atmospheric
security. How, then, might we understand the emerging ge-
ographies of “unmanned” policing (Wall, 2013)?
The first decade of the war on terror saw US military and
CIA drones concentrated to the mountainous and remote ge-
ographies of Pakistan (Shaw and Akhter, 2012), and later
Yemen and Somalia. In recent years, however, drones in
and beyond the USA have been trialed by police forces as
part of a revanchist military urbanism (Graham, 2010). Gre-
gory (2011), for example, discusses the existence of the ev-
erywhere war, and writes that “war has become the pervasive
matrix within which social life is constituted. Yet perhaps
we need to reverse this formulation, such that it is social life
that is – and always has been – the pervasive matrix in which
war is constituted. The political and geopolitical crises en-
demic to the surplus population collapse both “war power”
and “police power” in contrapuntal geographies, such that
Neocleous’ (2014:162) notion of the everywhere police is a
productive analytic for diagnosing our contemporary condi-
tion. Under this understanding, social problems are always-
already militarized, and domestic space is always-already a
battlespace. For example, the long history of aerial policing
Geogr. Helv., 71, 19–28, 2016
Ian G. R. Shaw: The urbanization of drone warfare 21
and pacification of “restive” populations (Satia, 2014) is in-
separable from colonial and capital expansion.
Yet the contemporary management of surplus populations
may yet prove a decisive break from the past. This paper will
argue that drones, and micro-drones in particular, are gen-
erative of newer, more pervasive spaces of social control.
The dronification of state violence not only embodies the
ongoing robotization of state security but also materializes
the logic of a permanent urban manhunt. Moreover, as the
sheer volume of surplus humanity increases, the state is turn-
ing towards automated and algorithmic systems to manage
them (Amoore, 2009). This, in turn, removes human admin-
istrators from the loop. In other words, a quantitative rise in
surplus populations is facilitating a qualitative change in the
biopolitical systems deployed by the state to manage them
(Shaw and Akhter, 2014). The passage from a (Keynesian)
welfare state to a (neoliberal) security state (Hallsworth and
Lea, 2011) has created more capital-intensive forms of war-
fare and policing. This includes an armada of security ap-
paratuses, from biometrics and CCTV to “pre-emptive” or
“predictive” policing in forces such as the Los Angeles Po-
lice Department or the Metropolitan Police in the UK. And
we can now can add the drone to this form of everywhere
policing, which materializes a newset of technics for an older
social war between capital accumulation and labor.
Crucially, police drones are not inert objects that simply
“add” to preexisting forms of authority, but mediators that
actively transform the very logics of state power (Meehan et
al., 2013; Shaw and Meehan, 2013). Unlike the helicopters
prowling above the Los Angeles skyline, smaller drones that
can pervade and saturate the urban volume complicate the
very idea of remote surveillance. The drone, and micro-drone
in particular, with its ability toswarm in the streets of densely
packed urban environments, holds the potential for more in-
timate and invasive forms of state power. This not only in-
tensifies the coverage and mobility of existing state technics
but is fundamentally transforming them. What follows is a
provocative analysis into surplus populations, their geogra-
phy, and the future of urban policing. My purpose is to gather
together various economic and social trajectories that point
towards the rise of the hyper-secured dronepolis.
2 Surplus humanity and robotic capitalism
In this section, I want to explore the animating contra-
diction of the paper: the creation of surplus populations.
Marx (1990:782) crystallized the idea that a bloc of unem-
ployed or infrequently employed humanity was a direct
consequence of capital accumulation. The term should not
be confused with Thomas Malthus’ ideas about overpopula-
tion. Marx understands the surplus population not in abso-
lute terms, but in relation to capital. As Li (2009:68) clar-
ifies, Marx’s use of “relative” signals “the continuous ten-
dency of capital to concentrate labour’s productive capac-
ity into labour-displacing technologies. Although there are
lots of factors that influence the changing numbers of sur-
plus populations, the one that I want to focus on is the ra-
tio between constant capital (i.e., the technological means of
production) and variable capital (i.e., human labor power). A
persistent trend in capitalism is to augment, replace, and de-
value variable capital with constant capital. The mechaniza-
tion of the factory in the nineteenth century partly fulfilled
this function. Today it is reflected in the ongoing robotiza-
tion of economic activity. In both cases, the surplus popu-
lation “set free” by constant capital further devalues human
labor, constituting “a mass of human material always ready
for exploitation” (Marx, 1990:784).
However, a surplus population is not an effective source of
demand. Capital must still realize a profit by selling goods
to a growing population made redundant by technics. Capi-
tal is perennially caught in this contradictory unity between
production and realization (Harvey 2014a:81). “Technologi-
cal advances”, argues Hudson (2011:1667), “mean that capi-
tal is increasingly unable to absorb the world’s massive (and
growing) surplus population. Yet for for much of the twen-
tieth century, technological unemployment was mitigated by
ongoing economic growth, particularly in the service sector.
But what happens when the fast-food worker, the telemar-
keter, and the administrator alike are all replaced by tech-
nics – whether computers or robots? Skilled and cognitively
intensive work, traditionally a form of employment difficult
to capitalize, is now vulnerable. In 2015 a Bank of England
study warned up to 15 million “jobs in Britain are at risk of
being lost to an age of robots” (Elliot, 2015). Other research
has suggested that, within decades, 47% of jobs could be lost
to automation in the USA (Frey and Osborne, 2013).
The automation of sectors across capitalism is reach-
ing levels in which income growth already stagnant in
many developed countries is now massively outstripped
by capital returns. “When the rate of return on capital ex-
ceeds the rate of growth of output and income”, writes
Piketty (2014:1), “as it did in the nineteenth century and
seems quite likely to do again in the twenty-first century, cap-
italism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable
inequalities. Capitalism in the twenty-first century, then, is
constituted by increasing levels of nonhuman capital. The
rate of return on physical assets and financial instruments,
together with the substitution of labor with technics, consid-
erably exceeds income growth. Piketty symbolizes this in-
equality as r>g, what he describes as the fundamental con-
tradiction of capital.
If the Industrial Revolution exacerbated this fundamental
contradiction, then what of the robotic revolution today? This
is a highly debated question amongst economists. Certainly,
the impulse towards a “robotized economy in which one
can increase production at will simply by adding more cap-
ital” (Piketty, 2014:217) exists, even if its total realization is
near impossible. Nonetheless, the technical barriers towards
a heavily robotized economy are dissolving all the time. The Geogr. Helv., 71, 19–28, 2016
22 Ian G. R. Shaw: The urbanization of drone warfare
elasticity of substitution between capital and labor increases
with advances in artificial intelligence. As robots become
smarter and cheaper, humans become more replaceable. Per-
haps more importantly, “Robots do not... complain, an-
swer back, sue, get sick, go slow, lose concentration, go on
strike, demand more wages, worry about conditions,want tea
breaks or simply refuse to show up” (Harvey 2014a:103).
This inegalitarian impulse could, however, be stymied by
political revolution. Unless, of course, “one peculiarly ef-
fective repressive apparatus exists to keep it from happen-
ing” (Piketty, 2014:263). And herein lies the rub of the mat-
ter. The surplus population could become a social force that
capital backed by state welfare mechanisms “bargains”
with to produce a “new deal”. Or else it could be targeted by
a “peculiarly effective repressive apparatus”. It is this latter
future I expand upon below.
3 Technological unemployment and its discontents
Technological advancements risk centralizing capital in the
hands of fewer and fewer people. The uneven power rela-
tions endemic to such a robotized economy one that is
splintering away from the surplus populations it creates
is thus cause for serious concern. Accordingly, we must un-
derstand Piketty’s abstract mathematical law, r>g, as under-
written by immeasurable social discontents. Indeed, Piketty
fails to account for these kinds of dynamics, according to
Harvey (2014b), who argues that the relative power of labor
has declined since the 1970s, and this is because capital has
mobilized technologies, off-shoring, and anti-labor “supply-
side” politics to crush opposition. Moreover, after two cen-
turies of machine-based capitalism, the physical conditions
for many in the Global North may have improved,yet the vast
majority of work is still defined by repetitive, menial tasks
or, for lack of a better word, drudgery. As anthropologist
Graeber (2013) writes, the modern proliferation of “bullshit”
jobs is one outcome of the technologization of work. “Accu-
mulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time
accumulation of misery, the torment of labour, slavery, ig-
norance, brutalization and moral degradation at the opposite
pole” (Marx, 1990:799).
Marx used the term alienation to describe the condition
of losing one’s existential autonomy to the technical and so-
cial machinery of the bourgeoisie. This exteriorization of
self is a hallmark of capitalism: the worker sells their labor
in the production process. Moreover, this alienated relation-
ship between subject and object suffuseseveryday life. While
the human has always reached beyond its fleshy boundaries,
the modern capitalist technical system it encounters today
subsumes individuals within a logic of computational con-
trol, standardization, and mass psychological synchroniza-
tion (Stiegler, 2011). The consequences are profound. The
World Health Organization (2011) estimates that by 2030 de-
pression will be the leading global health problem. As nonhu-
man capital becomes increasingly severed from social labor,
then, the technical system no longer operates with humanity.
The surplus population becomes alienated en masse from a
robotizing economy that no longer values human labor. Un-
surprisingly, this generates a deep distrust and even outright
hostility among huge swaths of society. In turn, capitalism
must re-arm and re-secure its own survival, further exacer-
bating the very contradictions it generates.
Criminalizing, policing, and profiting from this growing
surplus population is big business in the Global North. The
prison-industrial complex parasitically preys on the misery
of a deserted humanity. As Wall (2013:40) argues, “security
capitalizes on devastation and insecurity by converting them
into a plethora of opportunities for state power, social order
and capitalist accumulation to be bolstered and reproduced.
Indeed, surplus populations of hyper-racialized men are at
the center of contemporary security politics. “The prison sys-
tem”, write Cowen and Siciliano (2011:1517), “has become a
means of warehousing a racialized reserve army of predom-
inantly young male labour. Up until the 1980s, a broadly
demand-side, or Keynesian, form of economic policy held in
Western Europe and the USA. Of course, since social secu-
rity was framed within the nexus of economic security, the
former was still overdetermined by the latter (see Neocleous,
2006). Nonetheless, since the 1980s, the responsibility for
welfare has shifted from the commonwealth to the individ-
ual, and supply-side tax regimes have ascended. This neolib-
eral counter-revolution ushered into the world a new kind of
state – the security state (Hallsworth and Lea, 2011) and a
new kind of society: the control society (Deleuze 1992).
The security state is no longer responsible for ending
economic inequality, but for policing it. As Hallsworth and
Lea (2011:142) write, the security state aims “at the manage-
ment of social fragmentation and the ‘advanced marginal-
ity’ of a growing global surplus population rendered ‘struc-
turally irrelevant’ to capital accumulation. The counter-
part of the security state is the control society. The con-
tinuing technologization of security materializes a shift
from Michel Foucault’s notion of a disciplinary society to
what Deleuze (1992) presciently labeled the control soci-
ety. Rather than just discipline “deviant” populations within
state enclosures – such as prisons, asylums, schools, and bar-
racks the control society produces a universalizing form
of control driven by computational surveillance and algorith-
mic governance (Amoore, 2009). Here we loop back to the
central contradiction of the surplus population: it is both cre-
ated and policed by capitalist technics. As more and more
jobs are replaced by nonhuman capital, the expelled work-
ers find themselves policed, occupied, and watched by an
equally robotic security armada. And in between these tech-
nics swells a profound discontent. It is in this sense that a
robotizing capitalism renders vast swathes of humans as ma-
terially and psychologically insecure (Harvey, 2014a:108).
Geogr. Helv., 71, 19–28, 2016
Ian G. R. Shaw: The urbanization of drone warfare 23
4 The spaces of surplus populations
The universalizing tendency toward economic inequality is
spatially concentrated in a militarized urbanism. This groups
together drug addicts, terrorists, criminals, young people en-
gaged in anti-social behavior, and immigrants indeed, any
individual that threatens the economic wellbeing of the secu-
rity state. “The result is a kind of social, civil war to control
domestic space” (Graham, 2010:109). This slippage between
different categories of people signifies how surplus popu-
lations are continually remade into enemy populations. As
Feldman (2004:332) writes, “these public safety wars are not
wars of utopia, but wars of dystopia that assume that ‘per-
fected’ liberal democracies are threatened by an invisible,
infiltrating menace. This infiltrating menace is the surplus
population, materially and ideologically rendered as an en-
emy population one that crosses geopolitical boundaries
and complicates the traditional logics of sovereignty and ter-
ritory. This, in turn, drives the explosion of borders every-
where, as the enemy population multiplies and self-divides.
As a result, the borders of the security state no longer mark
the distinction between national commonwealths, but move
inwards, separating zones of urban abandonment with seces-
sionary communities.
These paranoid and revanchist spatializations are under-
written by powerful modes of racialization (Merrill, 2011).
As McIntyre and Nast (2011:1466) write, “One cannot,
therefore, understand surplus populations without under-
standing how the geographical dynamics of accumulation
have become increasingly racialized. The relationship be-
tween race and superfluity remains an active process in world
politics. To conceptualize this co-imbrication between lives
that are valued and lives that are surplus, McIntyre and Nast
introduce the concepts of biopolis and necropolis. Follow-
ing Mbembe’s (2003) work on “necropolitics” – which fore-
grounds the primacy of death, rather than life, as a mode
of sovereign power the necropolis is the space of the so-
cially outcast and dead, “borne through displacements, en-
closures, and containments, both in the context of slavery,
the colony and (initially) the nation-state” (McIntyre and
Nast, 2011:1470). Its opposite is the biopolis based on Fou-
cault’s notion of biopower – in which the sovereign protects
and manages its inhabitants. “Whereas capitalists attended,
however inadequately, to the problem of biological and so-
cial reproduction in the biopolis, no such concern extendedto
the necropolis. So long as surplus laboring populations were
sufficiently large, little regard was given to the symbolic or
practical course of local reproduction” (McIntyre and Nast,
In the necropolis then, capital extracts surplus value. But
unlike in the biopolis, it fails to reinvest in social reproduc-
tion. This spatial division is producing what Gidwani and
Reddy (2011:1640) call a “techno-ecological urbanization”,
that is, “two sets of urban ecologies and populations one,
the ecology set of an urban bourgeoisie actively tied into
global circuits of capital, whose lives are considered worthy
of caring by the state; the other, the ecology set of an urban
underclass living off the commodity detritus of these global
circuits, whose lives are of indifference to the state”. Both
spaces – the necropolis and the biopolis – are thus connected
in twisted geographies of economic and emotional transac-
tion in which capital is traded for misery, and life is traded
for death. Yet the necropolis and biopolis do not straightfor-
wardly express cities positioned across national borders. As
Li (2009:66) writes, African-Americans on the south side
of Chicago are ‘let die’ at around 60 years, while the mostly
white, middle-class residents on the city’s northwest side can
expect to live until the age of 77.2. The necropolis, then,
can be seen as a matrix of exceptional spaces within the na-
tion state (Agamben, 2005) spaces of abandonment that
are nonetheless included in capital accumulation and state
The distance between the necropolis and biopolis contin-
ues to be compressed and capsularized. The idea of what de
Cauter (2004) calls a capsular civilization expresses this spa-
tial logic of a hyper-fragmented yet hyper-proximate land-
scape of necropolitical and biopolitical spaces. In the com-
fort capsules of wealth, users can access biopolitical forms of
government intervention – but in the necropolitical spaces of
surplus and waste, the overridinglogic is to “let die”.As Gra-
ham (2010:100) underscores, “Urban geographies become
increasingly polarized, and cities experience palpable milita-
rization as secessionary elites strive to sequester themselves
within fortified capsules. The necropolis and biopolis thus
coexist in intimate, proximate, and contrapuntal morpholo-
gies. Sloterdijk’s (2011:55) spatial metaphor of “foam” de-
scribes the hyper-fragmented spaces of solitary co-isolation
and co-confinement in the modern age, particularly in the
city. Deploying this metaphor, we can imagine the necrop-
olis and biopolis as foams of death and life passing next to
each other in intimate and shifting bubbles, yet without any
mutual overlap. Or as Klauser (2010:331) writes, the cap-
sularized and foamy city is “an ensemble of spatially an-
chored, more or less hermetically enclosed, socially exclu-
sive, and atmospherically active spheres of togetherness that
are, essentially, composed by co-isolated, individuated sub-
jects. So while the logic of securing surplus populations is
an everywhere policing, what is policed is not human wel-
fare and togetherness. Instead, it is a transcendental logic of
worldly co-isolation, in which outcast bodies are monitored
– and suspended – within the desperate foams of the necrop-
olis. Of course, these borders are continually transgressed,
through uprisings, riots, and more mundane disruptions of
the worldly order. And it is this porosity that breeds further
paranoia and its obverse: manhunting. Geogr. Helv., 71, 19–28, 2016
24 Ian G. R. Shaw: The urbanization of drone warfare
5 Manhunting
A technologically infused manhunt is the means by which
the security state polices the fissiparous borders that snake
between the biopolis and necropolis. While vast swathes of
humanity are “let die” in a passive form of state abandon-
ment, those who transgress their worldly emplacing can be
actively hunted down. As Chamayou (2012:89) argues, “the
police is a hunting institution, the state’s arm for pursuit, en-
trusted by it with tracking, arresting, and imprisoning. Man-
hunting, of course, has a much longer history than its cur-
rent incarnation. Capital was born in the midst of empire and
colonial manhunting. Marx (1990:915) famously argued that
“the beginning of conquest and plunder of India, and the con-
version of Africa into a preserve for the commercial hunt-
ing of blackskins, are all things which characterize the dawn
of the era of capitalist production. Capital and manhunting
thus share contrapuntal geographies: those individuals who
resisted capital in the past have been hunted down. It it in
this sense that the manhunt is the modus operandi of a longer
history of pacification, which is to say the production and
policing of bourgeois social order (Neocleous, 2013:8).
Yet the technics of manhunting are spatially and tempo-
rally contingent and ever shifting. “Technicity, as a system”,
observes Stiegler (2011:51), “constitutes the artificial and so-
cial system of predation and defense from the beginning of
humanity.” So while pacification is a project that is centuries
old, the technicity of the manhunt is constantly shifting with
the evolution of the worldwide military-industrial complex.
And this modern manhunt is inseparable from the logic of
targeting. As Cowen and Siciliano (2011:1526) write, “tar-
geting contrasts with the implicit, typically national geogra-
phy of welfarism and transforms the said goal of government
from collective welfare and development to managing spa-
tially bounded problems. Both the military and police now
mobilize targeting practices ‘at home’ to govern overlapping
populations of surplus subjects.
The war on terror materialized the most recent, and planet-
wide, geography of manhunting. In the wake of the terrorist
attacks of 11 September 2001, the US military, CIA, NSA,
and Special Forces were reengineered around a new kind
of hyper-connected and transnational manhunt (Mazzetti,
2013). As President Bush announced in 2003, “We’re at war
in a different kind of war. It’s a war that requires us to
be on an international manhunt” (CNN, 2003). This leads
Chamayou (2015:32) to conclude that A single decade has
seen the establishment of an unconventional form of state
violence that combines the disparate characteristics of war-
fare and policing without really corresponding to either, find-
ing conceptual and practical utility in the notion of a mil-
itarized manhunt. This unconventional form of globalized
state violence has pivoted around the military drone, form-
ing what I have elsewhere called a Predator Empire (Shaw,
2013). However, while there has been important research on
military drones in political geography and critical security
studies (Gregory, 2011; Holmqvist, 2013; Walters, 2014),
the spatialities and logics of the police drone are under-
researched. Yet the police drone is materializing an insidious
and spatially amorphous form of pacification. The dronifica-
tion of state violence crystallizes the state’s project to pacify
external and internal enemies as a single matrix of targets.
As Wall (2013:34) argues, “police drones underline the un-
manning of the police manhunt, that foundational practice of
police power where the ‘reserve army of labour’ is quite lit-
erally hunted and captured.
Drone manhunting thus embodies two seemingly contra-
dictory impulses: abandonment and surveillance. The sur-
plus population is economically discarded but nonetheless
watched by the state. As Handel (2011:259) argues, in con-
trast to the Foucaultian notion of biopolitical and inclusive
surveillance that embraces its citizens in a form of sovereign
governmentality, exclusionary surveillance, conversely, uses
power/knowledge practices “to exclude unwanted popula-
tions”. This, in other words, is a form of necropolitical
surveillance. As Handel (2011:272) continues, “Exclusion-
ary surveillance is the state of exception’s operative tool. It is
exclusionary surveillance that separates the people who are
part of the demos from those who are excluded from it. So
while a robotizing form of capitalism may continue to repel
surplus populations to the outside of the economic order,they
nonetheless remain on the inside of state power.
Furthermore, in tandem with the “individualization of
warfare” (Blum, 2014), the security state requires that the
surplus-qua-enemy populations can be disaggregated to the
scale of the individual. This exerts an inexorable push to-
wards the further technologization of security. As the sheer
volume of surplus humanity increases, the state is turning
towards automated systems that can manage huge volumes
of individual data (Amoore, 2009; Shaw and Akhter, 2014).
This constructs a technological grammar in which individ-
uals are converted into what Deleuze (1992) called divid-
uals: digital codes constituted by email, phone, and finan-
cial records, which are passed between the policing assem-
blages of the control society. But the process does not stop
there. These dividuated strings of data are spliced with spa-
tial forms of intelligence, such as cell phone mast records,
license plate readers, CCTV, and IP addresses, to produce
geolocated patterns of life. “Also called nodal analysis, such
geographical work is designedto make a ‘shadowy foe’ more
‘visible and vulnerable’ by revealing ‘patterns of life’ and
thus taking him or her from being a ‘foe’ hiding in the shad-
ows to a visible target” (Crampton et al., 2014:206).
The individualization of warfare is thus a double process:
the human is disaggregated across a diffuse set of electronic
data sets, only to be re-individuated by state technics as a
moving pattern of life. “The production of this form of in-
dividuality”, argues Chamayou (2014), “belongs neither to
discipline nor to control, but to something else: to targeting
in its most contemporary procedures, whose formal features
are shared today among fields as diverse as policing, military
Geogr. Helv., 71, 19–28, 2016
Ian G. R. Shaw: The urbanization of drone warfare 25
reconnaissance, and marketing. It might well be, for that mat-
ter, that we are entering targeted societies. Targeting, how-
ever, should not imply a narrowing of spatial power. It re-
lies on its necessary obverse: extension. The entire “normal”
population must first be coded and modeled to geolocate the
abnormal. In order to individualize, the security state must
first totalize, effecting an intensive policing of the lifeworld.
The two spatial optics of urban manhunting are thus popu-
lation (expansion) and person (contraction), both of which
are increasingly connected through the vertical orbits of the
police drone. The targeted society is the robotic heir to the
control society.
6 The rise of the dronopticon?
The atmosphere has been a crucial space of military power
and colonial pacification since the birth of air power (Satia,
2014). In turn, aerial forms of civil policing were established
throughout the second half of the twentieth century, as po-
lice forces in the Global North turned towards technology
to fight crime. “Los Angeles, for example, developed a par-
ticular brand of policing that emphasized technological so-
phistication and aggressive patrolling” (Herbert, 1997:16).
The LAPD currently has 19 helicopters, which were first
deployed in 1956 after the establishment of its Air Support
Division. Indeed, the helicopter has been a central technol-
ogy for policing megacities across the world (Adey, 2010).
Rotary-wing aircraft enable the police to render the urban
terrain visible and impose a form of flexible, mobile control:
whether through high-powered spotlights, video cameras, or
loudspeakers. The helicopter materializes the state’s desire
to impose order upon the chaotic circulations of the city. In
other cases, the helicopter enables the wealthy to bypass the
surplus population entirely. Sao Paulo, for example, holds the
world’s most private helicopters per capita, which allow the
ultra-rich to take to the skies and bypass the city’s terrestrial
congestion and social danger (Adey, 2010).
But how will the urbanization of drone warfare extend and
rework this extant logic? On the one hand, “unmanned verti-
cal policing extends the police dream of pacification through
air power, or a scopic verticality” (Wall, 2013:42). Under this
understanding, the drone intensifies already-existing regimes
of aerial policing further enclosing the targeted society
from above and rendering the illegible spaces of necropolis
visible. Yet drones also hold the potential to transform state
technics. They materialize a more intimate form of aerial
policing that challenges the notion that drones are remote
technologies.Currently, the Predator and Reaper class of mil-
itary drones surveil the ground from up to a flight ceiling of
25000 and 50000 feet, respectively. But a big trend in mili-
tary and domestic robotics is to develop micro- or “nano”-
drones that can range in size from a humming bird to an
insect. Crucially, by going smaller, the geographies of state
surveillance become more intimate.
Most US police drones in existence today are variants of
the small-scale quadcopter drones used by amateur hobby-
ists. Grand Forks sheriffs department in North Dakota, for
example, owns four drones. This includes the quadcopter
Qube, developed by AeroVironment, as well as the US mili-
tary’s most widely used fixed-wing drone, the hand-launched
Raven (Pilkington, 2014). Moreover, advances in artificial
intelligence are enabling small-scale nano-drones to coop-
erate together in emergent, cooperating constellations called
“swarms” (Shaw and Akhter, 2012:1500). It is here that the
specifics of a dronified form of policing are glimpsed. With
an ability to swarmin roving robotic clouds, the (nano-)drone
holds the potential to pervade, saturate, and modulate the ur-
ban volume in a way that neither the helicopter nor CCTV
can adequately perform.
Adey (2014:835) has previously written that “atmospheres
are becoming objects of security, whilst security itself has
gone, or is going, atmospheric. Perhaps, therefore, we are
entering a new technicity of atmospheric security. Crucial
to the idea of atmospheric security is that individuals can
be immersed without being physically contained or touched.
Jeremy Bentham’s classic blueprint for a Panopticon is re-
flected in today’s network of CCTV cameras fused to the
urban architecture. This horizontal form of surveillance is
complemented by the vertical power of the helicopter. But
the police drone – or, rather, the police swarm will be able
to move across both axes of the city and can thus occupy
street and sky simultaneously. Accordingly, the police drone
disrupts the extant geometries of state power that are con-
strained to an X and Y axis. Furthermore, nano-drones would
be able to move inside workplaces or perch inside of homes
undetected. These drones would be able to infiltrate a range
of currently inaccessible urban micro-geographies. Such fu-
ture police drones thus materialize a swarm-like space of
panopticism, or what could be labelled as a deterritorialized
dronopoticon. There are fewer reasons to doubt that, in the
future, swarms of nano-drones will pass freely through the
foams of urban living, shuttling between the biopolis and
necropolis, to ensure that everyone is secured in their right
Moreover, by securing and saturating the urban atmo-
sphere, the police swarm not only straightforwardly medi-
ates the technogeographies of state power but comes to re-
calibrate the psychological and emotional landscapes of the
humans that it targets. Drone surveillance “amounts to a psy-
chic imprisonment within a perimeter no longer defined by
bars, barriers, and walls, but by endless circling of flying
watchtowers above” (Chamayou, 2015:45). In places outside
of the Global North, surplus populations such as those in
Palestine are already subject to this exact form of atmo-
psychological security. The fractured geographies of Pales-
tine “are not simply enclosed by Israeli-controlled land on
their borders, but also above and below. Israel has refused
to handover control of airspace even after its disengagement
from Gaza” (Elden, 2013:48). The dronopticon, then, is more Geogr. Helv., 71, 19–28, 2016
26 Ian G. R. Shaw: The urbanization of drone warfare
than an architecture of state power; it is an affective swarm
capable of enclosing, hacking, and remaking the lifeworlds it
7 Conclusion: the dronepolis
Imagine a blueprint for a city to come. A city that will not
only materialize the twisted contradictions of the necropo-
lis and the biopolis but will be secured by a robotic police
force hell-bent on erasing the possibility of politics. Imag-
ine the dronepolis, the city of the drone. The dronepolis is
set to become the latest in a long succession of urban forms
that have pacified and policed the surplus population. It ad-
vances the logic of the machine-readable “smart city” to its
natural and dystopic conclusion: a technologically infused
apartheid. The lives of the valued and the surplus would be
proximate topographically, but separated by advanced tech-
nics. “Clearly, any such social order could only exist on
the basis of fascistic mind control and the continuous ex-
ercise of daily police surveillance and violence accompa-
nied by periodic militarised repressions. Anyone who does
not see elements of such a dystopian world already in place
around us is deceiving herself or himself most cruelly” (Har-
vey, 2014a:264). The dronepolis materializes the logic of a
capital-intensive form of exclusionary surveillance that se-
cures segregation.Already, across many cities in the USA, an
abandoned homeless population is subject to draconian anti-
homeless laws and hostile urban architecture. The dronepolis
will be assembled by apparatuses of control that range from
territorialized technologies of state power, such as CCTV, to
deterritorialized swarms of nano-drones swimming between
buildings. In the atmospheres of this desperate city, hyper-
mobile police drones will surround and enter the homes of
suspects, in a manhunt in which the human is transformed
into an abstract pattern of life: a digital simulacrum chased
across the data sets of the targeted society.
The dronepolis does not represent a decisive break from
the past, then, but is a re-materialization of an already-
existing social war between a fortified bourgeoisie and a
planetary surplus population. And it does so, increasingly,
everywhere, as the logics and profit potential for a
dronified city spread across the planet, skipping between
colony and metropole. “Oligarchic capitalist class privilege
and power are taking the world in a similar direction almost
everywhere. Political power backed by intensifying surveil-
lance, policing and militarised violence is being used to at-
tack the well-being of wholepopulations deemed expendable
and disposable” (Harvey, 2014a:292). Describing the ascen-
dance of dronified policing, Neocleous (2014:162) writes,
“This is nothing less than a permanent police presence of
the reproduction of order air power as the everywhere po-
lice in which the exercise of violence is an ever-present
possibility. And this ever-present possibility of police vio-
lence materializes a landscape of psychological terror. In its
most draconian stage, the dronepolis dissolves entirely the
lines between the biopolis and necropolis, such that “even
those bourgeois communities and citizens usually eclipsed
from the police gaze will come under the stare of unmanned
policing, to that extent that air power obliterates any useful
distinction between suspect and bystander, target and non-
target” (Wall, 2013:49).
Finally, many of the police drones of the dronepolis will
be weaponized. While attaching lethal missiles may appear a
distant reality, what about Tasers? In 2015, North Dakota be-
came the first state to legalize less-than-lethal weaponized
drones: flying robots fitted with tear gas, rubber bullets,
Tasers, or beanbags (Wagner, 2015). Whether this opens the
door to other police forces remains to be seen as does the
complicated and emergent geographies of legal, social, and
political resistance. Additionally, non-state actors will dis-
rupt the smooth running of the dronepolis while nonetheless
feeding its power. Recently, police in Tokyo established the
first “drone squad” tasked with capturing nuisance drones
flown by the public, as well as patrolling important govern-
ment buildings (BBC News, 2015). This atmospheric secu-
ritization followed a 2015 incident when a drone carrying a
radioactive substance landed on the Japanese prime minis-
ter’s office. Such a topography of ultra-secured government
and corporate headquarters fitted with anti-drone shields and
patrolled by police drones will be a hallmark of our looming
urban landscapes. The dronepolis is the city of a robotic capi-
talism severing from human welfare, the city of an intimately
targeted society, the city of a surplus and hyper-secured hu-
Acknowledgements. I would like to thank the editor,
Benedikt Korf, and two anonymous reviewers. Thanks also
go to Francisco Klauser and Silvana Pedrozo for inviting me
to the conference “Power and Space in the Drone Age” at the
University of Neuchâtel, where a version of this paper was first
presented. Finally, the paper has benefited from comments from
Majed Akhter, Keith Hammond, Lazaros Karaliotas, Jared Powell,
and Marv Waterstone. Funding for this research was provided by
the Urban Studies Foundation and the ESRC (ES/K009087/1).
Edited by: B. Korf
Reviewed by: two anonymous referees
Adey, P.: Vertical security in the megacity: legibility, mobility and
aerial politics. Theory, Culture & Society, 27, 51–67, 2010.
Adey, P: Security atmospheres or the crystallisation of worlds, Envi-
ronment and Planning D: Society and Space 32, 834–851, 2014.
Agamben, G.: State of exception, University of Chicago Press,
Chicago, 2005.
Amoore, L.: Algorithmic war: Everyday geographies of the war on
terror, Antipode, 41, 49–69, 2009.
Geogr. Helv., 71, 19–28, 2016
Ian G. R. Shaw: The urbanization of drone warfare 27
BBC News: Drone squad to be launched by Tokyo police, avail-
able at:, last access
21 December 2015.
Blum, G.: The individualization of war: From war to policing in
the regulation of armed conflicts, in: Law and War, edited by:
Sarat, A., Doughlas, L. and Umphrey, M. M., Stanford University
Press, Stanford, 48–83, 2014.
Chamayou, G.: Manhunts: A philosophical history, trans. Rendall,
S., Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2012.
Chamayou, G: Patterns of life: A very short history
of schematic bodies, The Funambulist, available at:
gregoire-chamayou/ (last access: 21 August 2015), 2014.
Chamayou, G.: Drone Theory, Penguin Books, New York, 2015.
Ceyhan, A.: Technologization of security: Management of uncer-
tainty and risk in the age of biometrics, Surveillance & Society
5, 102–123, 2008.
CNN: Transcripts, available at:
TRANSCRIPTS/0302/14/se.04.html (last access: 15 December
2015), 2003.
Cowen, D. and Siciliano, A.: Surplus masculinities and security,
Antipode, 43, 1516–1541, 2011.
Crampton, J. W., Roberts, S. M., and Poorthuis, A.: The new politi-
cal economy of geographical intelligence, Annals of the Associ-
ation of American Geographers, 104, 196–214, 2014.
Davis, M.: The urbanization of empire: Megacities and the laws of
chaos, Social Text, 22, 9–15, 2004.
de Cauter, L.: The Capsular Civilization: On the City in the Age of
Fear, NAi Publisher, Rotterdam, 2004.
Deleuze, G.: Postscript on the societies of control, October, 59, 3–7,
Elden, S.: Secure the Volume: Vertical Geopolitics and the Depth of
Power, Political Geography, 34, 35–51, 2013.
Elliot, L.: Robots threaten 15m UK jobs, says Bank of England’s
chief economist, The Guardian, 12 November 2015.
Eurostat: Unemployment statistics, available at: http:
Unemployment_statistics, last access: 21 December 2015.
Feldman, A.: Securocratic wars of public safety, Interventions, 6,
330–350, 2004.
Frey, C. B. and Osborne, M. A.: The future of employ-
ment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation?, avail-
able at:
The_Future_of_Employment.pdf (last access: 16 December
2015), 2013.
Gidwani, V. and Reddy, R. N.: The afterlives of ‘waste’: Notes
from India for a minor history of capitalist surplus, Antipode,
43, 1625–1658, 2011.
Graeber, D.: On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs, Strike! Maga-
zine, available at: (last access:
21 August 2015), 2013.
Graham, S.: Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism.
Verso, London, 2010.
Gregory, D.: The everywhere war, The Geographical Journal, 177,
238–250, 2011.
Hallsworth, S. and Lea, J.: Reconstructing leviathan: emerging con-
tours of the security state,Theoretical Criminology, 15, 141–157,
Handel, A.: Exclusionary surveillance and spatial uncertainty in the
Occupied Palestinian Territories, in: Israel/Palestine: Population,
Territory and Power, edited by: Zureik, E., Lyon, D., and Abu-
Laban, Y., Routledge, New York, 259–275, 2011.
Harvey, D.: Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism,
Profile Books, London, 2014a.
Harvey, D.: Afterthoughts on Piketty’s Capital, available at: http:// (last ac-
cess: 15 December 2015), 2014b.
Herbert, S.: Policing Space: Territoriality and the Los Angeles Po-
lice Department, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis,
Holmqvist, C.: Undoing war: war ontologies and the materiality of
drone warfare, Millennium Journal of International Studies, 41,
535–552, 2013.
Hudson, L.: A species of thought: Bare life and animal being, An-
tipode, 43, 1659–1678, 2011.
International Labour Organization: World Employment Social Out-
look, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2015.
Klauser, F. R.: Splintering spheres of security: Peter Sloterdijk and
the contemporary fortress city, Environment and Planning D: So-
ciety and Space, 28, 326–340, 2010.
Li, T. M.: To make live or let die? Rural dispossession and the pro-
tection of surplus populations, Antipode, 41, 66–93, 2009.
Marx, K.: Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Trans. Fowkes,
B., Penguin Books, London, 1990.
Mazzetti, M.: The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and
a War at the Ends of the Earth, The Penguin Press, New York,
Mbembe, A: Necropolitics, Public Culture, 15, 11–40, 2003.
McIntyre, M. and Nast, H. J.: Bio(necro)polis: Marx, surplus pop-
ulations, and the spatial dialectics of reproduction and race, An-
tipode, 43, 1465–1488, 2011.
Meehan, K., Shaw, I. G. R., and Marston, S. A.: Political geogra-
phies of the object, Political Geography, 33, 1–10, 2013.
Merrill, H.: Migration and surplus populations: Race and deindus-
trialization in northern Italy, Antipode, 43, 1542–1572, 2011.
Neilson, D. and Stubbs, T.: Relative surplus population and uneven
development in the neoliberal era: theory and empirical applica-
tion, Capital & Class, 35, 435–453, 2011.
Neocleous, M: From social to national security: On the fabrication
of economic order, Security Dialogue, 37, 363–384, 2006.
Neocleous, M.: The dream of pacification:Accumulation,class war,
and the hunt, Socialist Studies, 9, 7–31, 2013.
Neocleous, M.: War Power, Police Power, Edinburgh University
Press, Edinburgh, 2014.
Piketty, T.: Capital in theTwenty-First Century, Trans. A. Goldham-
mer, Harvard University Press, 2014.
Pilkington, E: “We see ourselves as the vanguard”:
the police force using drones to fight crime, avail-
able at:
drones-police-force-crime-uavs-north-dakota (last access: 17
December 2015), 2014.
Satia, P.: Drones: a history from the British Middle East, Human-
ity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarian-
ism, and Development, 5, 1–31, 2014.
Shaw, I. G. R.: Predator empire: the geopolitics of US drone war-
fare, Geopolitics, 18, 536–559, 2013. Geogr. Helv., 71, 19–28, 2016
28 Ian G. R. Shaw: The urbanization of drone warfare
Shaw, I. G. R. and Akhter, M.: The unbearable humanness of drone
warfare in FATA, Pakistan, Antipode, 44, 1490–1509, 2012.
Shaw, I. G. R. and Akhter, M.: The dronification of state violence,
Critical Asian Studies, 46, 211–234, 2014.
Shaw, I. G. R. and Meehan, K: Force-full: power, politics and
object-oriented philosophy, Area, 45, 216–222, 2013.
Sloterdijk, P: Spheres, Volume I: Bubbles, Trans. Hoban, W.,
Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2011.
Stiegler, B.: The Decadence of Industrial Democracies: Disbelief
and Discredit, Volume 1, translated by: Ross, D. and Arnold, S.,
Polity Press, Cambridge, 2011.
Tyner, J. A.: Population geography I: Surplus populations, Progress
in Human Geography, 37, 701–711, 2013.
Wagner, L.: North Dakota legalizes armed police drones,
NPR, available at:
27/435301160/north-dakota-legalizes-armed-police-drones, last
access: 18 December 2015.
Wall, T.: Unmanning the police manhunt: Vertical security as paci-
fication, Socialist Studies, 9, 32–56, 2013.
Walters, W.: Drone strikes, dingpolitik and beyond: furthering the
debate on materiality and security, Security Dialogue, 45, 101–
118, 2014.
The World Health Organization: Global burden of mental disorders
and the need for a comprehensive, coordinated response from
health and social sectors ad the country level, EB130/9, 2011.
Geogr. Helv., 71, 19–28, 2016
... In the last two decades, the design and utilisation of semi-autonomous unmanned systems have gone the furthest in the air force. 2 Unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones, can have fixed wings or multirotors and serve a variety of purposes: reconnaissance, surveillance, patrolling, intelligence gathering, tracking, and lethal missions. While there has been increasing research in various disciplines that delves into the political, legal, military, social, and ethical aspects of drone operations of intelligence gathering, tracking, and targeted killings aimed at the enemy (Gregory 2011;Holmqvist 2013;Strawser et al. 2014;Chamayou 2015;Allison 2015;Shaw 2016a;Gusterson 2016;Grayson 2017;Hazelton 2017;Enemark 2017;Meisels 2018), there is a lack of emphasis on how drones are utilised as a tool of the command-and-control system aimed at the performance of one's own fighting human force on the battlefield. For instance, Shaw (2016b) and Chamayou (2015) have tackled the technology of dronopticon, but only in regard to its civil utilisation in the policing of urban areas or aimed at specific segments of populations. ...
... While there has been increasing research in various disciplines that delves into the political, legal, military, social, and ethical aspects of drone operations of intelligence gathering, tracking, and targeted killings aimed at the enemy (Gregory 2011;Holmqvist 2013;Strawser et al. 2014;Chamayou 2015;Allison 2015;Shaw 2016a;Gusterson 2016;Grayson 2017;Hazelton 2017;Enemark 2017;Meisels 2018), there is a lack of emphasis on how drones are utilised as a tool of the command-and-control system aimed at the performance of one's own fighting human force on the battlefield. For instance, Shaw (2016b) and Chamayou (2015) have tackled the technology of dronopticon, but only in regard to its civil utilisation in the policing of urban areas or aimed at specific segments of populations. ...
Full-text available
The paper looks at the military use of burgeoning technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in designing the visual regime of the drone as a tool for control of combat efficiency in twenty-first-century warfare. The author posits his analysis in critical theory and critical war/military studies with focus on the operationally relevant use of technical properties of the visual regime of drone observed through a wealth of video material uploaded to YouTube and related to the ongoing war in Ukraine. While many analyses delve into the combined practices of intelligence gathering, targeting, and killing aimed at the enemy, the author investigates how recent combat practices unveil the potential for an emerging role of drone surveillance: the scrutinization of combat performance of one?s own soldiers. In the age of a highly professionalized and industrialized warfare, inherent to the politics of military interventionism aimed at maintaining liberal peace across the globe, the shift towards a pervasive control over the combat ?assembly line? reconstitutes technological character of the drone so that it becomes an apparatus of domination. The author concludes that the drone as mobile platform for surveillance displays hidden potentials to reinforce the existing relations of domination and cautions that the advent of nano-drones could socially constitute far more intrusive and intimate control of ground troops.
... To advance a feminist geopolitics of the drone-home, it is necessary to respond to the call made in the geographies of home literature for criticality around the 'idealised' home and the tendency to focus upon experiences of protection at the expense of those of tension and conflict (Brickell, 2012b). Drone scholarship also raises similar questions of drone protection for whom (Shaw, 2016a;Wall, 2013Wall, , 2016? While drone scholars are increasingly attentive to non-state-deployed drones (Choi-Fitzpatrick, 2019;Crampton, 2016;Fish et al., 2018;Jackman, 2019;Kaplan, 2020;Schnepf 2019), including what Parks (2016: 227) describes as the drone's 'softer, neoliberal side', there nonetheless remains a paucity of work attentive to the scale of the home, and its intersections with narratives and experiences of protection. ...
... Drone scholarship recognises that this rationale increasingly extends beyond the battlefield, with militarised drone logics mobilised within 'the homeland'. Yet, attention still clings to the growing deployment of drones as 'technologies of state surveillance and policing' (Davies, 2019;Shaw, 2016a;Wall and Monahan, 2011: 243). Sunflower Lab's brandishing of their drone with the popular military and policing adage of an 'eye in the sky' (figure 2) evidences the need for further attention to the growing presence of the drone in the home. ...
Full-text available
We live in an increasingly drone-saturated world. In this article, we bring drone scholarship and feminist geopolitics into dialogue to interrogate the drone-home. We re-orient military- and state-led accounts, foregrounding the growing range of non-state actors enacting and subject to the drone as it is increasingly employed in the Global North. In so doing, we develop the concept of ‘everyday droning’ as the honing and homing of military technology and drone capitalism. Examining militarization and enclosure at the scale of everyday home life, we urge future geographical work to engage with everyday droning being actively seeded in the domestic here-and-now.
... Over roughly the last decade, there has been a dramatic increase in engagements from authors working in critical geography, Global Political Economy (GPE) and related literatures with the concept of RSP (Arnold and Pickles, 2011;Kabat, 2014;Li, 2009Li, , 2017McIntrye and Nast, 2011;Merill, 2011;Neilson and Stubbs, 2011;Rehmann, 2015;Shaw, 2016;Sanyal, 2007). While the revival of interest in the concept is no doubt welcome, the concept of relative surplus populations has often been framed in a way that has ultimately hindered analyses in important ways. ...
... Emphasizing the semi-permanent 'disconnection' of RSPs from capital implies a research agenda focused on (1) how survival is secured through extra-capitalist means (see Ferguson, 2015;Ferguson and Li, 2018), and (2) how populations rendered surplus are disciplined and governed, again with a primary emphasis on extra-capitalist systems, including the role of racialization, carcerality, and surveillance (e.g. Shaw, 2016;Sukarieh and Tannock, 2017). We see two main problems with this. ...
... Constantine Gidaris technology (Browne 2015;Maynard 2017; Eubanks 2019), the use of many police technologies including robots renders these populations more superfluous than others. In the relationship between policing, race, and disposability, human lives that are subjected to increased forms of policing and surveillance are lives that are likely to become more expendable than others (Shaw 2016). The logic of disposability that is anchored to technocapitalism is also anchored to the policing of race, in which the police continue to be seen by many Black people and communities "as agents of a repressive social order" (Wilder-Bonner 2014: 128). ...
Full-text available
This article critically engages with the emergence of police robots in the United States, arguing that their inevitable foray into everyday policing will fuel existing issues of racial discrimination. Building on Luis Suarez-Villa’s (2009) conceptualization of technocapitalism, I situate police robots within a framework of social domination that thrives not only on its connections to corporatism and militarism, but also on technocapitalist conditions that invariably exacerbate the oppressive dynamics of racist and discriminatory policing. Although police robots will make police work safer for officers (Sharkey 2008), I contend that they will be used by the police as weaponized machines of racial discrimination.
... A whitepaper by Uber [15] points out that visual pollution concerns can be addressed via trip route modifications to avoid particularly sensitive vistas or by consolidating traffic to existing transportation corridors such as above highways. Social scientists argue that drones can be viewed as usurpers taking over people's right to the city and air [97]. In popular literature and media, dystopian urban environments are usually presented as spaces cluttered with small aircraft (Fig. 5), which might influence real-world public sentiment and UAM acceptance. ...
The article brings together the academic and industry literature on the design and management of urban airspace. We analyze the proposed airspace concepts, identify their strengths and weaknesses, point to gaps in research, and provide recommendations for a more holistic approach to designing urban airspace. We first identify the structural factors that define the size, capacity, and geometry of urban airspace. These factors are grouped into four categories: safety-related factors, social factors, system factors, and aircraft factors. Second, we review different urban airspace concepts proposed around the world. Third, we assess the airspace concepts based on the identified factors. Most of the reviewed airspace concepts are idealized as abstract networks, with an emphasis on maximizing safety and capacity, and with little regard for factors such as technological complexity, noise, or privacy. Additionally, we find that the airspace structure directly influences the level of safety, efficiency, and capacity of airspace. On the one hand, air vehicles in less structured airspace have more degrees of freedom. They can freely choose their position, altitude, heading, and speed, which increases airspace capacity and reduces flying costs. However, these concepts require high technological capabilities, such as dynamic geofences and advanced sense-and-avoid capabilities, to maintain the required safety levels. On the other hand, airspace concepts with fewer degrees of freedom can accommodate less capable aircraft but require strict operation rules and reduced capacity to ensure safety. Finally, the proposed urban air mobility concepts require extensive ground infrastructures, such as take-off and landing pads and communication, navigation, and surveillance infrastructure. There is a need for a new branch of research that analyzes urban air mobility from the perspective of urban planning, including issues around zoning, air rights, public transportation, real estate development, public acceptance, and access inequalities.
... Further, the majority of drone scholarship has focussed upon large military drones such as the iconic Reaper and (now retired) Predator drone. While, in recognition of the growing diversity of platforms that comprise the drone 'ecosystem' (Jackman 2019), scholars are increasingly foregrounding the small drone, analysis thus far remains largely confined to commercial drones (speculated) in domestic airspace (Crampton 2016;Jensen 2016;Jackman 2017), police and protest drones (Wall 2013(Wall , 2016Shaw 2016b, Kaplan 2020, and the weaponization and subversion of consumer drones (Jackman 2019;Bradley and Cerella 2019). It is at this juncture -between attending to small military drones, and exploring drones as they are visualized across more diverse terrain -that this article offers intervention. ...
We are in the midst of a global turn to the drone. Responding to the ‘unmanning’ of contemporary warfare, interdisciplinary scholarship has interrogated the human operators and non-human actors underpinning the drone, and their wide-ranging ethical, geopolitical, and legal implications. A key facet of extant drone debates surrounds drone vision – both as it operationally visualizes and is fetishized. While comparatively nascent, scholars have begun to explore how drones are instead visualized across particular media. In this article I identify two lacuna within extant drone scholarship: first a lack of attentiveness to small military drones, which while comprising the majority of global military arsenals remain comparatively absent from scholarly analysis; and second, a need to attend to a greater diversity of visual representations of the drone. In response, this article explores promotional visualizations of small military drones as they are ethnographically-encountered at a key site through which their usage is compelled and their functioning enabled – the defence tradeshow. In so doing, I identify three central frames through which the drone is repeatedly represented therein. I argue that these frames both engage and employ visual conventions associated with ‘nature’ and the ‘natural’ in order to ‘naturalize’ and normalize the drone in as-yet unaccounted ways. Approaching the drone through the current, yet under-examined, visual milieu of the defence environments in which it is promoted, the article contributes to both interdisciplinary drone scholarship, and literatures exploring the visual cultures of militarism more widely.
... Several studies have emphasised the growing militarisation of law enforcement agencies, specifically the US (Shaw 2016a;Wall 2013Wall , 2016, UK and Chinese police forces; dedicated drone police units were launched in 2017 in the UK (BBC 2017) 1 and there has been an increased use of drones in China's domestic airspace to enhance its policing capabilities in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region (Medina 2014). 2 While China's use of drones (disguised as birds) and on-theground CCTV for surveillance has been widely discussed in the context of its policing of ethnic minorities along the western frontier, many Chinese cities are the subject of increasing surveillance, with eight out of the top ten most-surveilled cities in the world located in China (The World's Most Surveilled Cities, 2019). In the US, drones have become more popular with law enforcement agencies than with any other public safety agency (Gettinger 2018). ...
Full-text available
In this article we will discuss the use of drones, as well as the visual simulation of drone afforded aesthetics, by activists, artists and protesters. We use the existing literature of surveillance studies and visual studies to examine how exactly a drone-afforded visibility emerges and how it mediates the visibility of a particular community or space of contention. We draw on the concepts of "surveillance capacities" and (counter) visibility practices to analyse the process and production of drone (and drone-simulated) counter surveillant artist/activist visibility. The article makes several key points. The first one concerns the construction of protest space and the protest site volumetrically from the airborne perspective of the citizen drone via an assemblage of artist/activist practices. These practices include the use of drones, as well as drone-simulated imagery. The latter includes, DIY aerial camera rigs attached to kites and the use visual social media platforms such as Instagram to curate otherwise less visible military drone geographies more 'real' and proximate. The second concerns the visibility of subjects engaged in the protest space. And finally, we elaborate how events are presented dynamically (rhythmically) through drone videos and a drone-afforded visual grammar. Our assumption is that drones, as well as drone-simulated imagery allow the user to generate a hybrid participative (inclusive) visibility that makes protest more spectacular through its volumetric vision, subverting the visibility of control while striving for visibility of recognition. Overall, this article seeks to further elaborate on the visual turn within sociology, specifically in relation to what are now commonplace volumetric practices of power, representation and participation.
Full-text available
When the novel coronavirus moved around the planet in early 2020, reconfiguring, slowing down, or halting everyday mobilities, another transport mode was mobilized: the pandemic drone . We highlight the increasing prominence of this aerial device by surveying international media coverage of pandemic drone use in the spring of 2020. To address a range of pandemic drone affordances and applications, we organize manifold cases under two broad categories: sensing and moving with the pandemic drone. Here we ask: what roles do, and could, drones play during the pandemic? Following the empirical examples and related mobilities research, we theorize the drone versus virus and the drone as virus. As such, the work identifies avenues for mobilities research into pandemic drones as a growing mobility domain. Moreover, in thinking through the pandemic drone, we demonstrate creative extensions of mobilities thinking that bridge biological and technological, as well as media and mobility frameworks when multiple public health and safety crises unfolded and intersected.
A convergence of four genealogies reveals drone power. Environmentality describes the contradictory uses of drones in conservation. Humanitarianism articulates how control is enacted and challenged in human crises. Securitization examines drones in surveillance and counter-surveillance. Militarization, the use of drones in war, explains domination from above and resistance from below. While theories of governmentality dominate, an emergent materialism within drone studies emphasizes the diffusion of power and agency. A synthesis of drone governmentality and drone materialism exposes four flightways or elemental trajectories. The drone is an existential technology – a tool for enlivenment and senescence. As such, drone power migrates between biopolitics and resistance. In doing so, drone performativity generates assemblages of human and nonhuman actants entangled at material-discursive and onto-epistemological levels. Entrapment designates the consequences of increasing dependency on technologies in sociotechnical systems of life and death.
Full-text available
This book is a critical exploration of the ways in which the war power and the police power are intertwined in the form of state violence and exercised in the fabrication of order. It is not a book about an institution called ‘the military’ and how it connects to an institution called ‘the police’ but is, rather, an attempt to think critically about how powers of war and powers of police coincide for the purposes of social ordering. In tracing this argument the book generates a provocative set of claims about state power and capital accumulation, the role of violence in the making of liberal order, the police wars at the heart of this violence, and the ways in which these processes come to be called ‘peace and security’. In the process, the book explores the liberal ‘war on waste’, debates about effeminacy, the proliferation of resilience and trauma-talk, civilization as a process of violence, drones as the culmination of colonial bombing campaigns, and no-fly zones as the perfect accompaniment for drones.
Full-text available
This article argues that the category ‘pacification’ offers the critique of security a means of thinking through the connection between war, police and accumulation. Pacification is a process in which the war power is used in the fabrication of a social order of wage labour. This aligns the war power with the police power, and suggests that their interconnection might be understood through the lens of pacification. The article explores this through one of the mechanisms through which the war power and police power combine: the hunt. Capital rests on the hunt: the hunt for vagabonds, beggars, enemies, criminals, terrorists. Behind this hunt lies capital’s original demand, Let there be Accumulation! ‘Pacification’ is a category that helps us make sense of the way the state responds to this demand.
Gabriella Blum provides a broad conceptual account of the phenomenon described in the previous chapter. Blum asks us to understand the expansion of the law of war in terms of a shift from “collectivism” to “cosmopolitanism.” In this account, from the end of the nineteenth century and through much of the twentieth, the legal regulation of war operated on the level of the “collective”— that is, through a “state-oriented set of obligations, which viewed war as an intercollective effort.” More recently, however, the law of war has moved toward embracing the commitments of “cosmopolitan individualism,” a theory that understands rights as vested in individuals “regardless of national affiliation or territorial boundaries.” Blum argues that this shift has worked to unsettle and destabilize the foundational distinctions upon which the law of war was predicated.
This article provides a critique of military aerial drones being “repurposed” as domestic security technologies. Mapping this process in regards to domestic policing agencies in the United States, the case of police drones speaks directly to the importation of actual military and colonial architectures into the routine spaces of the “homeland”, disclosing insidious entwinements of war and police, metropole and colony, accumulation and securitization. The “boomeranging” of military UAVs is but one contemporary example how war power and police power have long been allied and it is the logic of security and the practice of pacification that animates both. The police drone is but one of the most nascent technologies that extends or reproduces the police’s own design on the pacification of territory. Therefore, we must be careful not to fetishize the domestic police drone by framing this development as emblematic of a radical break from traditional policing mandates – the case of police drones is interesting less because it speaks about the militarization of the police, which it certainly does, but more about the ways in which it accentuates the mutual mandates and joint rationalities of war abroad and policing at home. Finally, the paper considers how the animus of police drones is productive of a particular form of organized suspicion, namely, the manhunt. Here, the “unmanning” of police power extends the police capability to not only see or know its dominion, but to quite literally track, pursue, and ultimately capture human prey.
Touching on issues of power, authority, and domination, Manhunts takes an in-depth look at the hunting of humans in the West, from ancient Sparta, through the Middle Ages, to the modern practices of chasing undocumented migrants. Incorporating historical events and philosophical reflection, Grégoire Chamayou examines the systematic and organized search for individuals and small groups on the run because they have defied authority, committed crimes, seemed dangerous simply for existing, or been categorized as subhuman or dispensable. Chamayou begins in ancient Greece, where young Spartans hunted and killed Helots (Sparta's serfs) as an initiation rite, and where Aristotle and other philosophers helped to justify raids to capture and enslave foreigners by creating the concept of natural slaves. He discusses the hunt for heretics in the Middle Ages; New World natives in the early modern period; vagrants, Jews, criminals, and runaway slaves in other eras; and illegal immigrants today. Exploring evolving ideas about the human and the subhuman, what we owe to enemies and people on the margins of society, and the supposed legitimacy of domination, Chamayou shows that the hunting of humans should not be treated ahistorically, and that manhunting has varied as widely in its justifications and aims as in its practices. He investigates the psychology of manhunting, noting that many people, from bounty hunters to Balzac, have written about the thrill of hunting when the prey is equally intelligent and cunning. An unconventional history on an unconventional subject, Manhunts is an in-depth consideration of the dynamics of an age-old form of violence.
Ever had the feeling that your job might be made up? That the world would keep on turning if you weren’t doing that thing you do 9-5? David Graeber explored the phenomenon of bullshit jobs for our recent summer issue – everyone who’s employed should read carefully…
Introduction Foucault's Boomerang: Colonies Come Home Surveillant Economy Urban Achilles Virtual-Citizen-Soldiers References
Recent scholarship in critical security studies argues that matter matters because it is not an inert backdrop to social life but lively, affectively laden, active in the constitution of subjects, and capable of enabling and constraining security practices and processes. This article seeks to further the debate about materiality and security. Its main claim is that materials-oriented approaches to security typically focus on the place of materials and objects within technologies and assemblages of governance. Less often do they ask how materials and objects become entangled in political controversies, and how objects mediate issues of public concern. To bring publics and contentious politics more fully into the debate about the matter of security, the article engages with Latour's work on politics, publics and things - or dingpolitik. It then connects the theme of dingpolitik to a particular controversy: Human Rights Watch's investigation of Gaza civilians allegedly killed by Israeli drone-launched missiles in 2008-2009. Drawing three lessons from this case, the article explores how further conversation between dingpolitik and security studies can be mutually beneficial for both literatures.