Object lessons


Adam Rothestein‘s Drone, the latest contribution to the Object Lessons series co-published by the Atlantic and Bloomsbury Academic, is out at the end of this month.

Drones are in the newspaper, on the TV screen, swarming through the networks, and soon, we’re told, they’ll be delivering our shopping. But what are drones? The word encompasses everything from toys to weapons. And yet, as broadly defined as they are, the word ‘drone’ fills many of us with a sense of technological dread. Adam Rothstein cuts through the mystery, the unknown, and the political posturing, and talks about what drones really are: what technologies are out there, and what’s coming next; how drones are talked about, and how they are represented in popular culture.

It turns out that drones are not as scary as they appear – but they are more complicated than you might expect. Drones reveal the strange relationships that humans are forming with their new technologies.

Here’s the Contents list:


Chapter One: Four Technology Stories

Chapter Two: The Military Drone

Chapter Three: The Commercial Drone (or the hole where it ought to be)

Chapter Four: Blinking Lights

Chapter Five: Software and Hardware

Chapter Six: The Non-Drone

Chapter Seven: What the Drone is For

Chapter Eight: The Drone in Discourse

Chapter Nine: Drone Fiction

Chapter Ten: Ourselves and the Drone

Chapter Eleven: Aesthetics of the Drone

Chapter Twelve: The Drone as Meme

The book comes with this enthusiastic endorsement from Geoff Manaugh of (richly deserved) BLDGBLOG fame:

“Adam Rothstein’s Drone presents this iconic figure of contemporary warfare-the disconcertingly alluring autonomous airborne machine-through the lens of a different kind of history. Privacy and tracking algorithms run side by side with the ethics of self-guided munitions, activist political programs butt heads with emerging corporate business strategies, and all of it is tied back to the earliest experiments in driverless vehicles, quaint ancestors of today’s over-mythologized UAVs. In the end, Rothstein’s book is an exploration of technical agency: Where did drones come from-and what do they want?”

You can find some of Adam’s preliminary ideas about what he then called ‘Drone ethnography’ at rhizome here, an interview with the lovely people at Bard here, and what Terraform calls his ‘future fiction, ‘Targeted strike 2: Judgment Database’, here.

The Object Lessons essay and book series, edited by Ian Bogost and Christopher Schaberg, is about ‘the hidden lives of ordinary things’.  If you want a different take on drones as objects, I suggest starting with William Walters, ‘Drone strikes, dingpolitik and beyond: Furthering the debate on materiality and security’ in Security dialogue 45 (2) (2014) 101-118.