Seeing and Unmaking Civilians in Afghanistan: Visual Technologies and Contested Professional Visions

Science, Technology, and Human Values 42 (6):1031-1060 (2017)
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Abstract

While the distinction between civilians and combatants is fundamental to international law, it is contested and complicated in practice. How do North Atlantic Treaty Organization officers see civilians in Afghanistan? Focusing on 2009 air strike in Kunduz, this article argues that the professional vision of NATO officers relies not only on recent military technologies that allow for aerial surveillance, thermal imaging, and precise targeting but also on the assumptions, vocabularies, modes of attention, and hierarchies of knowledges that the officers bring to the interpretation of aerial surveillance images. Professional vision is socially situated and frequently contested with communities of practice. In the case of the Kunduz air strike, the aerial vantage point and the military visual technologies cannot fully determine what would be seen. Instead, the officers’ assumptions about Afghanistan, threats, and the gender of the civilian inform the vocabulary they use for coding people and places as civilian or noncivilian. Civilians are not simply “found,” they are produced through specific forms of professional vision.

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Citations of this work

Tracking and Targeting: Sociotechnologies of (In)security.Jutta Weber, Karolina Follis & Lucy Suchman - 2017 - Science, Technology, and Human Values 42 (6):983-1002.
Target Practice: Counterterrorism and the Amplification of Data Friction.Jon R. Lindsay - 2017 - Science, Technology, and Human Values 42 (6):1061-1099.
Vision and Transterritory: The Borders of Europe.Karolina S. Follis - 2017 - Science, Technology, and Human Values 42 (6):1003-1030.

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References found in this work

From a View to a Kill.Derek Gregory - 2011 - Theory, Culture and Society 28 (7-8):188-215.
State simplifications: Nature, space and people.James C. Scott - 1995 - Journal of Political Philosophy 3 (3):191–233.
Targeting: Precision and the production of ethics.M. Zehfuss - 2010 - European Journal of International Relations 17 (3):543--566.

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