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Drone Warfare, Drone Art, and the Limits of Identification

Penn State English Department
Event organized by Penn State English Department

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Description of presentation: This talk comes from my book The Robotic Imaginary: The Human and the Price of Dehumanized Labor (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming 2018). I will trace connections between U.S. robotics technologies and cultural forms at the sites of dehumanization and devalued labor. I will argue that the figure of the robot in contemporary culture and technology is largely shaped by the conceptions of the human and more importantly of the dehumanized. I will look specifically at the labor of drone operators and what I call “drone art,” or contemporary artistic responses to drone warfare. Drawing on the racializing aspects of early cybernetics military research, I will look at drone art that responds to drone victims’ dehumanization by examining the limits of identification as a means of ethical response. Instead, drone art, as I will discuss, points to an understanding of the human through unrecognizability, difference, and unfamiliarity, rather than recognition, familiarity, and knowability.

Speaker bio: Jennifer Rhee is Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research and teaching are in science and literature and media studies. Jennifer’s book The Robotic Imaginary: The Human and the Price of Dehumanized Labor (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), will be published later this year. Her work has also appeared in journals including Camera Obscura, Configurations, Mosaic, and Postmodern Culture. She is currently working on her next book on counting technologies, from statistics to biometric surveillance.