Post-Atomic Eyes

An age ago I was asked to contribute to a symposium in Toronto on ‘Post-atomic eyes‘; I confessed at the time that I was taken aback – what on earth were the connections between drones and nuclear weapons?  Eventually I realised the root of the problem: I knew a lot about drones and other forms of more or less conventional aerial violence, but next to nothing about The Bomb (see here).

As I worked on my contribution – nervously, I freely admit – I came to realise that the connections between the two were close and intimate, and immensely consequential for both.  This is a tragically overlooked episode in the genealogy of drones (and aerial violence more generally), and I was asked to turn my presentation into an essay for an edited volume based on the conference.

You can find my first attempt under the DOWNLOADS tab – “Little Boys and Blue Skies“.  The essay was way overdue and over length; I’ve never found it easy to translate a presentation into a text.

But to my surprise (and delight) the editors, Claudette Lauzon and John O’Brian, graciously accepted the essay more or less as is, and the volume (also called Through Post-Atomic Eyes) is now published by McGill-Queens University Press:

What can photography tell us about a world transformed by nuclear catastrophe?

What does it mean to live in a post-atomic world? Photography and contemporary art offer a provocative lens through which to comprehend the by-products of the atomic age, from weapons proliferation, nuclear disaster, and aerial surveillance to toxic waste disposal and climate change.

Confronting cultural fallout from the dawn of the nuclear age, Through Post-Atomic Eyes addresses the myriad iterations of nuclear threat and their visual legacy in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Whether in the iconic black-and-white photograph of a mushroom cloud rising over Nagasaki in 1945 or in the steady stream of real-time video documenting the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, atomic culture – and our understanding of it – is inextricably constructed by the visual. This book takes the image as its starting point to address the visual inheritance of atomic anxieties; the intersection of photography, nuclear industries, and military technocultures; and the complex temporality of nuclear technologies. Contemporary artists contribute lens-based works that explore the consequences of the nuclear, and its afterlives, in the Anthropocene.

Revealing, through both art and prose, startling new connections between the ongoing threat of nuclear catastrophe and current global crises, Through Post-Atomic Eyes is a richly illustrated examination of how photography shapes and is shaped by nuclear culture.

Contributors include Karen Barad (UC Santa Cruz), James Bridle (Athens), Edward Burtynsky (Toronto), Blaine Campbell (Edmonton), Eric Cazdyn (University of Toronto), Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge (Toronto), Robert Del Tredici (Atomic Photographers Guild; Concordia University), Matthew Farish (University of Toronto), Blake Fitzpatrick (Ryerson University), Lindsey A. Freeman (Simon Fraser University), Derek Gregory (University of British Columbia), Kristan Horton (Berlin), Mary Kavanagh (University of Lethbridge), Kyo Maclear (Toronto), Joseph Masco (University of Chicago), Katy McCormick (Ryerson University), Karla McManus (University of Regina), David McMillan (Winnipeg), Andrea Pinheiro (Algoma University, Sault Ste. Marie), Public Studio (Toronto), Mark Ruwedel (Long Beach, CA), Julie Salverson (Queen’s University), Susan Schuppli (Goldsmiths, University of London), Erin Siddall (Vancouver), Charles Stankievech (University of Toronto), Peter C. van Wyck (Concordia University), Donald Weber (Royal Academy of Art, The Hague), and Eyal Weizman (Goldsmiths, University of London).

Under Afghan Skies – video

The video recordings of the two keynotes from the conference on “The aesthetics of drone warfare” – Antoine Bousquet and me – are now available online here.  Many thanks to Beryl Pong and her team for making this happen.

My presentation was a short (!) version of “Under Afghan Skies”, which I’m continuing to post in serial form here, though as I explain at the start I could equally have called it “Under American Eyes”…  More soon.

Under Afghan Skies: prologue

In what seems like another lifetime, although it was only last month, I spoke at a wonderful conference on “The Aesthetics of Drone Warfare“, organised by Beryl Pong and her team at the University of Sheffield.

I gave a new version of my research on the Uruzgan air strike that has preoccupied so many critics of drone warfare.  You can find earlier versions here and here, and I discussed the aftermath of the strike and the fate of the casualties in an essay called “Eyes in the Sky, Bodies on the Ground” which you can find under the DOWNLOADS tab [the original appeared in Critical Studies on Security 6 (2018) 347-358]. The Sheffield talk will eventually be online, though like so much else in these difficult times I’m sure that’s been delayed.  I’ve also given developing versions of the argument at several other conferences, under various titles; ‘developing’ because I haven’t been able to let it go.  Each time I dive back into the archival materials I seem to find something new – that’s in the nature of archival research, I think – but I’ve now been able to work up what is, I hope, the near-final written version.

This will be the last Part (I had hoped ‘chapter’, but it’s too long for that) of my new book, Reach from the Sky, which is intended to be both a geography and a genealogy of aerial violence.  Over the next several weeks I’ll be posting the essay here in serial form – interspersed, I suspect, with other notices: I’ve decided to return to blogging at something like my old pace – and I would be truly grateful for any comments, questions or suggestions (at derek.gregory@ubc.ca).

Trying to piece together what happened has been like playing multi-dimensional chess (I imagine: I’ve never tried), which is why there are so many notes.  As I worked on this version I realised that I had become so immersed in the narrative that I had started to take for granted contextual information that many, perhaps most readers probably wouldn’t have: hence the need to explain as I go, without breaking the flow. I hope you’ll let me know if it works.

One last rider: I’ve tried to keep the overt theory to a minimum, and for two reasons.  The first is that for me – now, anyway! – theory works best in solution, diffused into my presentation of the empirical materials with which I’m (also) working. Theory makes my argument possible, but in my experience it rarely survives its encounter with the archive intact (nor should it): it’s a medium, something to be worked with and constantly re-made.  It’s also – like the narrative that I will present in the coming weeks – always open and incomplete, an intellectual force-field of tensions and contradictions, because there is no one Theory that asks all the important questions or provides all the convincing answers.  So I’m obliged to work in the space between competing perspectives rather than seek some meta-theoretical resolution; there are decisions that still have to be made – of course: not all perspectives are valid – but I have refused to nail my colours to a single mast and have that determine my direction of travel.

More directly: the world does not exist in order to provide examples of our theorisations of it.  My interest here is in the fate of all those Afghan civilians who were killed and injured on 21 February 2010 and in what that might tell us about aerial violence and nominally ‘remote’ warfare.  And this brings me to my second reason.  Much of what I’ve read on ‘drone warfare’ seems long on theory but short on substance.   There are, of course, essays that activate theory to provide sensitive and illuminating insights into the conduct and consequences of aerial violence, and you’ll see that I’m indebted to many of them.  To  bring those ideas into a close engagement with the empirical – transforming both in the process – is a slow, delicate and time-consuming process.  It’s also, I hope, a collaborative one: which is where you come in….

More to come.  Stay safe and be well.

Corporeal War

This conference in Florence next year looks very interesting:

Spaces of War: Corporeal War, May 21st-22nd 2020
Deadline for abstracts: 10th January 2020

Building on the success of our 2018 international conference ‘Spaces of War: War of Spaces’, the Editors of the Media, War and Conflict Journal are holding our second conference at Accademia Europea Di Firenze, Florence, Italy in May 2020.

Alongside traditional papers, the expected conference programme will include film screenings and methodological workshops on Digital verification; Visuality/photography; The archive; Performance that are designed to facilitate the development of new ideas, networks and/or research proposals through dialogue with practitioners.

Conference Themes

In 2018 we were motivated by a feeling that broad theses on the transformation of war in new media environments was distracting attention from the richness of detailed work being conducted on specific cases. Macro theorisations were ignoring the varieties and intricacies of spaces through which war was being waged. That conference drew together a new generation of researchers in the field of war and media, and led to the forthcoming Spaces of War book due for publication by Bloomsbury in 2020.

But what emerged and gave meaning to the temporal and spatial dimensions of those dynamic, ever evolving spaces was the overarching theme of bodies and the profoundly corporeal, embodied nature of war and its relationship to space.

For the 2020 conference, we invite contributions that explore the intersections of body and space in the field of war and media through two broad themes:

Bodily Presence/Absence: How can research illuminate how bodies occupy, inhabit and live through and in spaces of war? When and how are bodies made visible in spaces of war, whose bodies (civic, military, technologized etc) and why? What are the implications of bodily presence and absence in relation to the transformative properties of the space? What are the consequences of post-bodily inhabitation?
Embodied Participation: How do media and digital technologies alter and shift the affective, sensory, mnemonic qualities of space? How are bodies, and the corporeal reality of war, transformed by spaces and visa versa? What are the consequences of our engagement with spaces of war for ourselves, others and the space itself?
Drawing on these broad themes and questions, the conference will showcase exciting new research in this field while pinpointing the emerging puzzles and lines of enquiry we face at the intersection of bodies, media, space and war.

We are interested in scholarly and practice contributions that speak to these themes through a range of topics across various spheres and powers relations.

While the main theme of this conference is the corporeal nature of war and its relationship to space, we also welcome papers dealing with any aspect of media, war and conflict.

Please submit an abstract of 250 words with author affiliation and brief biog to Sarah Maltby: s.maltby@sussex.ac.uk by 10th January 2020

Panel submissions are welcome. Panel proposals should include no more than 4 papers in total, a short description (200 words) together with abstracts for each of the papers (150-200 words each including details of the contributor), and the name and contact details of the panel proposer. The panel proposer should co-ordinate the submissions for that panel as a single proposal.

Registration Open: 24th January to 27th March 2020

The aesthetics of drone warfare

A conference at the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Sheffield (UK), 7-8 February 2020, organised by Beryl Pong – Vice Chancellor’s Fellow in English at the University of Sheffield – as part of a wider project funded by a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award for 2019-2020:

Drones have now become commercial and readily available, with innovators promising unprecedented solutions to sectors as wide ranging as agriculture, energy, public safety, and construction. But this multi-billion-dollar industry is founded upon the technology’s origins in a military context, and drone warfare is rapidly redefining the meaning of war, peace, and their temporal and geographical boundaries. Combining surveillance with targeting, satellite imaging with ground-level intelligence, human observation with algorithmic apparatuses, drones have catalysed new ways of making and experiencing war. This international two-day conference explores the issues surrounding drone warfare through the prism of aesthetics: aesthetics understood as art, and as the relationship between the body, the self, and the material environment. How does drone warfare extend and augment the human sensorium? How have writers and artists engaged in new forms or genres to address drone warfare? What is the role of the human in future war? What opportunities and challenges does information-based warfare pose for human rights and peace work? Approaches from all fields are welcome, including literature, history, geography, philosophy, political science, and visual art.

Proposals are invited for 20-minute presentations or for three-paper panels. Topics could include but are not restricted to the following:

Literature and the arts which thematise or feature drone technology and drone warfare
The history and pre-histories of drone warfare, such as aerial bombardment
The relationship between war, technological innovation, and the entertainment industries
Narratives of robotics, artificial intelligence, and information-based warfare
The relationship between peace, surveillance, pre-emption, and human rights
Drones, drone warfare, and social media
Posthuman warfare

Please send 250-word individual paper proposals, or 350-word proposals for fully formed panels, along with short biographies, to Beryl Pong at artofdronewarfare@gmail.com

Note:  There will be a workshop, for postgraduates and early-career researchers, led by Drone Wars UK: an NGO that conducts research, and maintains an up-to-date public dataset, on the U.K. use of armed drones. If you are interested in participating in the workshop, please indicate this in your application.

You can find more about Beryl’s project, and the conference, here.  Conference keynotes from Debjani GangulyDirector of the Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures at the University of Virginia, and me.

Violence, space and the archive

I’ve been busy transforming ‘Trauma Geographies‘ from a lecture into a long-form essay, and in the process the original discussion of casualty evacuation from France and Belgium in the First World War has morphed into a separate essay on ‘Woundscapes on the Western Front’.

More on both soon, but I’ve become so immersed in the archives again (Imperial War Museum and the Wellcome) that news of this upcoming conference from the ever-enterprising NUI Galway (23-24 May 2019) arrived at just the right moment:

We invite paper submissions from across the disciplinary spectrum for a conference on ‘Violence, Space and the Archives’ to examine the challenges and possibilities presented by archival work that interrogates the imbrications of violence and space. Many research projects concerned with the spatial, contextual, and/or historical specificities of violence involve the assembling of an empirical corpus, however defined, in order to (re)construct moments of struggle and contestation. Archives are often constituted by, and reflect, the concerns of power. The archive is a site of silence as much as a site of statement. Still, archival collections often allow the voices of the dispossessed, the marginal, and those most subject to regimes of power, to speak, albeit often through a narrowed aperture. Along with the strategic concerns of officialdom, the archives may also give voice to alternative political desires and ambitions, revealed through moments of contestation and resistance. As a political technology, archives render the state’s claimed spaces visible and orderable through cataloguing, but may also underline the contingency of dominant configurations of power by revealing sites of refusal. Of course, ’the archive’ is not limited to institutional and official repositories, but also to a shared fidelity to unofficial and counter-hegemonic memories that refuse to be forgotten.

We invite 20 minute papers that explore some of the following non-exhaustive list of themes: • The silence of the archive • Political desires/spatial imaginaries • Making contested space/ rebel space/ oppositional space visible • Contentious episodes and the archive • Histories/genealogies of thought as archive • Collective memory and resistance • Humanitarian archives and histories of violence • Archiving in times of conflict • Conflict and digital archives

Send abstracts of 250-300 words, along with name and affiliation and a short bio (100 words) to violenceandspace@gmail.com by 21 January 2019.

The conference takes place in NUI Galway and is organised by the Whitaker Institute’s Research Cluster on Conflict, Humanitarianism and Security in association with the Moore Institute, the School of Political Science & Sociology and the Peace and Conflict Specialist Group of the Political Studies Association of Ireland. It builds on the success of the 2018 Conference on Violence, Space, and the Political.

Organisers: Gary Hussey and Niall Ó Dochartaigh, School of Political Science and Sociology, NUI Galway.  More here.

Martial politics, violence and the everywhere war

CFP: MARTIAL POLITICS, VIOLENCE, AND THE EVERYWHERE WAR
International Conference of Critical Geography (ICCG), Athens, 19-23 April 2019.

Session organisers
Craig Jones, Newcastle University
Rhys Machold, Glasgow University
Derek Gregory, University of British Columbia

New wars and old wars, everywhere and nowhere wars, forever and unending wars. This nomenclature can distract from the immediate and local ways in which war is fought and the intimacies of time and space upon which its prosecution relies (Kinsella, forthcoming). Recent and not-so-recent debates about war take for granted what we mean when we talk about war (and not-war), but through these very debates it has become clear that we are not always talking about the same thing(s).

In this session we re-pose and extend a question asked by Etienne Balibar a decade ago: ‘what’s in a war?’ (Balibar, 2008). Balibar’s question was motivated by a desire to understand the shape, content and changing character of the ‘war on terror’ – a war (or set of wars) that has inspired many critiques across the social sciences and beyond. But the war on terror has also inspired several ways of reconceptualising war and its relation to other forms of violence, so much so that we must extend Balibar’s question about war in ways that allow us to more fully interrogate its spatiotemporal horizons as well as it’s putative exceptionality and relationship to other forms of (re)emergent violence.

Emerging approaches to war, violence and militarization herald all sorts of possible ways forward for re-thinking the war-violence continuum. Recent feminist scholarship on military and police violence instruct us to see their connections, for instance, via ‘the right to maim’ (Puar, 2017). Alison Howell has recently implored us to dispense with the concept of militarization altogether in favour of what she calls “martial politics”, signalling both a ‘need to be attentive to war-like relations or technologies and knowledges that are “of war”, and aiding in our understanding of ‘the indivisibility of war and peace, military and civilian, and national and social security’ (Howell, 2018: 118). Extending interrogations of the intersections between war and police power (Neocleous 2014) Micol Seigel’s notion ‘violence work’ develops a slightly different critique of ‘militarization’ calling out the idea of separated military/civilian spheres a liberal “fiction” yet emphasizing that the “Twin vehicles of state violence, police and military rub up against each other in productive friction” (Seigel 2008: 6). Ann Laura Stoler defines her notion of “duress” as “a relationship of actualized and anticipated violence” (2016: 8), arguing that duress is “increasingly found to be ricocheting back and forth across the imperial world” (64). In different ways, these interventions encourage us to move beyond a critique of entrenched boundaries and binaries – war/peace, military/police, civilian/combatant, etc. – to consider the politics at work within these representations. This emerging work also suggests possible novel ways forward for reclaiming and reframing these binaries and imagining new modes of resistance to war and war-like violence.

We encourage papers that broadly address the following questions and topics, not limited to:

· What is war?
· What, if anything, is exceptional, heightened or exemplary about war and how does it relate to other forms of violence and coercion?
· ‘Paradigmatic’ wars, warfare ‘laboratories’, war ‘hot-spots’
· Targeting bodies and populations
· Killing, injuring, maiming, and disability
· War power/police power
· Gendered violence and intimate war
· Infrastructural warfare
· Urban warfare/ war in/on cities
· War, medicine and health care under fire
· Intersections of war and law
· Sensate regimes and corpographies of war
· War and occupation
· Locating the everywhere war
· Algorithmic, electronic, robotic and cyber war
· More-than-human/other-than-human war
· War, ruins and historical memory

Please submit abstracts of around 200 words to craig.jones@ncl.ac.uk by 29 September 2018. Please send expressions of interest ASAP given the very short time-frame – our apologies for this.