Keynote address to the ASPRS 2000 DC Annual Conference

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Since the early 1990s, high-resolution satellite imagery and imagery data, made by a vast system of architectures that were formally developed and monopolized by the U.S. military-industrial command economy, have become more widely available to the civilian public through a combination of declassified data sets, commercial satellite operators and imagery vendors, and value-added resellers of imagery data. In the various discourses surrounding imagery and the systems that collect, interpret, and construct them, this wider availability is associated with an increasing "global transparency." This article suggests that, specific to fields like nuclear nonproliferation, these techno-discursive discourses have a common narrative theme associated with mechanically augmented visual systems, that of the transparent window on the world. First, the author considers an epistemological problem of satellite imagery that has been contemplated for both the map and the photographic image, which is, does the image/map constitute a window or a text? Next, through a historical comparison between map making, photography, and satellite imagery interpretation, the author briefly explores different articulations of transparency, with a contemporary focus on the use of satellite imagery in the discourses surrounding nuclear non-proliferation. Finally, the author suggests that the discourses of satellite imagery, which include practices and what these practices are imagined to produce, are a crucial site where sociotechnical articulations of a modernist, positivist, or realist narrative are played out. These narratives account for the relation between subjective experience and the external "real" world and are associated with various and often contradictory concepts of transparency.
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