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Investments in the imaginary: commercial drone speculations and relations

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Drones are increasingly understood and imagined as important actors, inhabiting and transforming aerial space. From their entrenched establishment within battlefield operations, drones have spawned into a diverse ecosystem of platforms and applications, increasingly punctuating domestic urban airspace. While occupying a status as exemplars of urban innovation, the drone poses, and remains bound to, a range of techno-cultural contestations – from challenges around airspace integration, to concerns around privacy, safety and pollution. Thinking with commercial drone futures, and specifically the logistics sector, this article interrogates the role of speculation in this unfolding techno-landscape. In so doing we turn to two key sites through which the drone is anticipated – namely patents and adverts – as lenses through which to investigate projected visualisations underpinning the emergent, envisioned and anticipated drone. We argue that such drone speculations do not simply and solely envision new means of circulating goods, people and information, but rather embody and act to promote a particular set of aerial desires and social relations. Critically unpacking envisioned notions of frictionless mobility, instant consumption, and the appropriation of vertical spaces and spectra, we argue that such speculative sites and practices importantly participate in a techno-fetishist agenda positing drone technology as a privileged and panacea agent of futurity, while often eliding its implications.
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Keywords: airspace; drones; futures; speculation; unmanned

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Royal Holloway, University of London, UK 2: University of Zurich, Switzerland

Publication date: February 2021

This article was made available online on January 18, 2021 as a Fast Track article with title: "Investments in the imaginary: commercial drone speculations and relations".

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  • Global Discourse is an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented journal of applied contemporary thought operating at the intersection of politics, international relations, sociology and social policy. The Journal's scope is broad, encouraging interrogation of current affairs with regard to core questions of distributive justice, wellbeing, cultural diversity, autonomy, sovereignty, security and recognition. All issues are themed and aimed at addressing pressing issues as they emerge. Rejecting the notion that publication is the final stage in the research process, Global Discourse seeks to foster discussion and debate between often artificially isolated disciplines and paradigms, with responses to articles encouraged and conversations continued across issues.

    The Journal features a mix of full-length articles, each accompanied by one or more replies, policy papers commissioned by organizations and institutions and book review symposia, typically consisting of three reviews and a reply by the author(s). With an international advisory editorial board consisting of experienced, highly-cited academics, Global Discourse publishes themed issues on topics as they emerge. Authors are encouraged to explore the international dimensions and implications of their work.

    All research articles in this journal have undergone rigorous peer review, based on initial editor screening and double-blind peer review. All submissions must be in response to a specific call for papers.

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