Consumer Drones as Technologies of the (Spatial) Self

Authors: Julia M. Hildebrand*, Drexel University
Topics: Communication, Cultural Geography, Social Theory
Keywords: mobile media, Foucault, McLuhan, ethnography, auto-ethnography, consumer drones, UAVs, remote sensing
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Oakley, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Consumer Drones are entering the domestic sphere with increasing frequency and impact. Next to farmers, firefighters, and scientists among others, hobbyists with backgrounds in photography, videography, gaming, model aircraft piloting, and aviation more generally have been turning to the flying camera for recreational practices. Approaching consumer drones as mobile media, this paper explores the hobby practice through the theoretical lenses of Michel Foucault and Marshall McLuhan. Specifically, Foucault’s “technologies of the self” and McLuhan’s “media extensions” help illuminate to what extent hobbyists experience consumer drones as an externalization of their selves. Based on ethnographic observations, in-depth interviews, and auto-ethnographic research, I discuss how the flying device extends but also challenges the human eye, foot, and self. Here, consumer drones afford both the curation and manifestation of a “spatial self” from an endocentric perspective (the drone’s aerial view) as well as the simultaneous experience of this process from an exocentric perspective (the remote pilot’s view on the ground). In this moment, the distinction between human subject and technological object can collapse, speaking to McLuhan’s notion of “amputation.” As such, the paper presents an effort to expand the current discourse on consumer drone potentials and spatial ways of relating between humans and flying visualization machines. 

Key References

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Foucault, M. (1988). “Technologies of the Self.” In: Martin, L. H., Gutman, H. & Hutton, P. H. (eds.), Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. London: Travistock.

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