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Policing the Farm’s Frontier: Agricultural Drones as an Enforcement Technology for Uneven Development

Authors: Emma Mullaney*, The Pennsylvania Sate University
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Drones, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: agriculture, violence, policing
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The battlefield has long bled into the farm field as a violent and contested terrain. Technologies originally developed for military use find new life in industrial agriculture, remaking the world long after the war for which they were originally designed. Following path laid by the Haber-Bosch synthesis, Herbicide Orange, and tractor innovations of the early 20th century, drones now play a burgeoning role in large-scale farming operations. Drones are marketed as sophisticated ‘must-have’ implements for precision agriculture, able to herd livestock, spray agrochemicals or biocontrols, and monitor everything from soil moisture levels to the bodies of trespassers.
A growing body of literature grapples with the “dronification” of state violence and the mobilization of police power enabled by drone technology. This paper explores the role of drones in remaking agricultural production and landscapes, in the context of uneven development more broadly. More specifically, I investigate agriculture-oriented drones as a tool of empire and of racial capitalism. Drones – as management-level machines that can oversee an army of agricultural biotechnology– are enlisted to secure long-term control over land and to make certain humans, animals, and plants killable, thereby helping to eradicate threats to private accumulation and property. By integrating political ecology with postcolonial critique, and drawing on indigenous and queer scholarship, this approach helps to make visible the violence of capitalist agriculture. I seek to better understand drones as an increasingly banal technology that works to legitimate and effect the subjugation and extermination of particular farmers, agroecologies, and ways of knowing.

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