Gender and Drone Warfare
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Gender and Drone Warfare

A Hauntological Perspective

Lindsay C. Clark

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Gender and Drone Warfare

A Hauntological Perspective

Lindsay C. Clark

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About This Book

This book investigates how drone warfare is deeply gendered and how this can be explored through the methodological framework of 'Haunting'.

Utilising original interview data from British Reaper drone crews, the book analyses the way killing by drones complicates traditional understandings of masculinity and femininity in warfare. As their role does not include physical risk, drone crews have been critiqued for failing to meet the masculine requirements necessary to be considered 'warriors' and have been derided for feminising war. However, this book argues that drone warfare, and the experiences of the crews, exceeds the traditional masculine/feminine binary and suggests a new approach to explore this issue. The framework of Haunting presented here draws on the insights of Jacques Derrida, Avery Gordon, and others to highlight four key themes – complex personhood, in/(hyper)visibility, disturbed temporality and power – as frames through which the intersection of gender and drone warfare can be examined. This book argues that Haunting provides a framework for both revealing and destabilising gendered binaries of use for feminist security studies and International Relations scholars, as well as shedding light on British drone warfare.

This book will be of interest to students of gender studies, sociology, war studies, and critical security studies.

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1 Theorising military technologies

The literature on military technologies is almost as diverse (or perhaps even more so) as the technologies themselves. Outside of the realm of the scientific, engineering and technical papers there is also a wealth of scholarship that addresses issues of importance to social science – the legal, ethical, social, psychological and cultural implications of the use of different kinds of technologies in warfare. One element that has often been overlooked, but which is of critical importance, is the work by feminist scholars on this issue. Whilst traditional security scholars have tended to view debates on gender as outside the remit of academic research into military technologies, feminist security scholars have definitively illustrated the myriad of ways and reasons that this is not the case. Instead, as feminist scholarship has indicated, ‘gendering’ research into the use of various technologies in warfare is fundamental to understanding the implications of their use. Beyond including gender as a ‘variable’ and ‘adding women’, feminist research has sketched out the co-constitution of gender and warfare (and by extension the technologies used in these contexts). By doing so, it becomes clear that it is not only useful to utilise a gendered lens for these topics but essential if we are to fully understand how military technologies function in the social, human context of war.
Existing interjections on this topic have explored the ways in which drone warfare can be constructed as a feminising influence on Western militaries (for example Coker, 2002; Vallor, 2013; Van Creveld, 2013; Royakkers and van Est, 2010; Asaro, 2013), and understood as representing their hypermasculinisation as a result of techno-fetishisation (for example, Kunashakaran, 2016; Masters, 2005; Bayard de Volo, 2016; Holmqvist, 2013). In addition, drone warfare has been explored as a queer phenomenon in that it disrupts the heteronormative structures that organise traditional narratives of warfare (Daggett, 2015; Wilcox, 2017). This latter approach reveals the instabilities, contradictions, and inherent ‘queerness’ within those structures. Daggett (2015) uses queer phenomenology specifically to examine the way drone warfare disrupts the ‘distance-intimacy’ and ‘home-combat’ spatio-temporal axes. Daggett’s perspective offers an important insight into the value of recognising the fluidity/instability of gendered binaries, noting that ‘warrior archetypes that order the act of killing … [are] defined against both the feminine and the queer’ (Daggett, 2015, p. 362). However, whilst Daggett’s analysis ‘can be read as concerning the maintenance of the heroic soldier myth and the production of martial violence as “combat”’ (Millar and Tidy, 2017, pp. 149, 154), there needs to be a stronger (but also queer-inspired) engagement with the concept of the warrior in and of itself and how this is historically/socially/culturally situated. Therefore, what becomes clear is that there is a space in the literature for a framework which can do two things: First, allow us to take gender seriously in an analysis of military technologies and the social/human activity of warfare; and second, simultaneously enable a problematisation/destabilisation of the gendered binaries and dichotomous thinking that emerges from discussions of the co-constitution of gender and war. In this chapter, then, I sketch out the moves through the existing academic scholarship that brought me to the position of searching for such a framework, before the following chapter outlines the framework itself.
This chapter begins by describing some of the diverse work on the impact of technological developments on the conduct of warfare. Understanding warfare and technology as having a reciprocal relationship, I draw attention to the specific area of robots in war and their impact on the ‘humanity’ of war. I follow this with an illustration of the importance of considering the work that gender does in warfare, sketching out the important contribution(s) that feminist security scholars have made to the study of war. In addition to shining a light on the spaces and places where women have stories to tell about war and pointing out the importance of gendering men in warfare, this chapter outlines the importance of acknowledging the impact of gendered discourses in thinking about military technologies. I then pull together these various threads to consider how feminist security scholars currently address the issues raised by the use of armed drones as one iteration of the ‘robotics’ in war ‘revolution’, and have drawn upon (both explicitly and implicitly) the dualisms of gendered discourses. Through these discourses, I point to the need for a framework that is capable of embracing the complexity of these gendered narratives in ways that have not previously been adopted.

Military technologies

The development of technology has been a key component in warfare since the first projectiles were thrown (Braudy, 2005; Goldstein, 2001). As technical and scientific developments have enabled new feats of engineering the world has seen the introduction of slingshots, cross bows and long bows, guns, canons and missiles, as well as battleships, fighter jets, aircraft carriers, and armoured ground vehicles (to name but a few) (Rogers, 2011; Cook, 2000; Singer, 2011; Coker, 2013; Lambeth, 1997; Kaag and Kaufman, 2009). Beyond the importance of these developments from a technological perspective, there are also important ethical, legal, and human concerns that have emerged alongside the machinery (Gray, 2008; Geiβ, 2011; Casey-Maslen, 2014; Kaurin, 2010). Technology affects and changes the way that war is undertaken, changes the way that people engage in fighting, changes how people kill and are killed, changes how deaths are articulated in popular discourses, and changes how those individuals tasked with the activities of war operate and are perceived. Therefore understanding how technology is implicated in these questions is essential to understanding the much wider concern of warfare as a social, political and cultural phenomenon (Sylvester, 2013; McSorley, 2013).
The debates in this literature are grouped around specific concerns, either historical development (looking for wider trends), future-casting (sometimes accompanied by dire warnings about impending apocalypse), and grouped topics such as the ethics of the use of specific technologies in war. As commentators like Geoffrey Jensen and Ian Clark have noted, there has been a reluctance amongst military scholars to engage with the human-technology interface in war ‘perhaps in part because they could not bear to turn their backs on the sort of military thinking that had dominated the more “heroic” times in which they felt most comfortable’ (Jensen, 2001, p. 3; Clark, 2015). Therefore in some instances the most pertinent engagements with the issues came from social scientists and political thinkers like Friedrich Engels, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber, who pointed to the interaction between, for example, the industrialisation of domestic society and the creation of war technologies (Engels, 1976; Jensen, 2001). For those military thinkers who did wrestle with the issue of technological development there was (and remains) disagreement over the degree to which material capabilities are more or less important than elements such as nationalism, leadership, and morale (compare, for example, the perspectives of Jomini, 2005; Engels, 1976; and Svechin and Lee, 2004). Liddell Hart’s statement that ‘“automatic warfare” … blows away romantic vapourings about the heroic values of war’ is echoed in Christopher Coker’s lament that ‘For the true warrior, violence is existential … death had meaning. So too did honour, courage, and loyalty, all of which gave life meaning too… But by 1970… the warrior tradition was dead’ (Liddell Hart, 1980, p. 33; Coker, 2002, p. 7).
These and other works, therefore, act as reminders that military technologies are not created in a vacuum, but rather reflect the contexts in which they are developed and the weight of political, social and cultural history (for example, McNeill, 1993; Van Creveld, 1991). For those concerned with the historical development of military technologies, there is a substantial literature devoted to discussing weaponry: the bow and arrow (Rogers, 2011), the gun (Reichmann, 1945), landmines (Anderson, 2000; Short, 1999), cluster munitions (Rappert and Moyes, 2009; van Woudenberg, 2008), nuclear weapons (Futter, 2011; Baylis and O’Neill, 2000), and, more recently, the advent of cyberwar (Gartzke, 2013; NATO, 2003), and the use of robots in warfare (Singer, 2011; Sparrow, 2007; IKV Pax Christi, 2011). In addition to discussing the specific conditions in which certain weapons developed, there is also significant interest in over-arching trends and the way that this interweaves with certain political and social contexts: for example the First World War (Newpower, 2006), the Cold War (Oldenziel and Zachmann, 2009; Mahnken, 2010), and the peculiarity of the way in which the US and the UK harness technology in warfare (Brigety, 2007; Travers, 1992).
The relationship between war and technological development is complicated and co-constituting. Much time is spent by military scholars and practitioners attempting to predict both new technologies and new challenges, and how the new technologies will enable/prevent appropriate responses to the resulting new challenges, and how these challenges might be overcome by other new technologies and so on (Echevarria, 2007; McMaster, 2008; Barnaby, 1984; Beason, 2005; Coker, 2004). The need for better protection of troops and ‘better’ ways of killing the enemy are fed back into research and development, whilst at the same time developments in the technological sphere affect the way and means through which warfare is conducted. Referred to as ‘revolutions in military affairs’1 the impact of certain technologies in war have been heralded as changing the shape of warfare in particularly significant ways (Parker, 1996; Rogers, 1995). Different writers have indicated that different technologies have had effects that are more or less ‘revolutionary’. For example, Max Boot (2007) identified four technological developments that have fundamentally changed the way that war is conducted: the advent of gunpowder, the first industrial revolution (with the advent of steam power), the second industrial revolution (with the advent of torpedoes and bombs), and the information revolution (with the advent of network-centric warfare, focusing on the impact of the computer). However, Boot’s list is not considered definitive and some authors have indicated, for example, that nuclear weapons should be considered ‘revolutionary’ (Immerman and Goedde, 2013; Pick et al., 1969; Neuneck, 2008) along with biological weapons (Martin, 2002; Galamas, 2008), and others still have looked back into history to argue for the revolutionary impact of the longbow (Neuneck, 2008; Rogers, 2011).
Despite this range of opinions, there is general agreement that technology and warfare have interacted (and continue to do so) in interesting and important ways. As such, Boot attempts to steer a route between technological determinism and not acknowledging the impact of changes in technology arguing, ‘No technical advance by itself made a revolution, it was how people responded to technology that produced seismic shifts in warfare’ (2007, p. 27). This statement is echoed in P.W. Singer’s observation that
World War I proved to be an odd, tragic mix of outmoded generalship combined with deadly new technologies. From the machine gun and radio to the aeroplane and tank, transformational weapons were introduced in the war, but the generals could not figure out how to use them.
(Singer, 2011, p. 46)
It is therefore important, in a reverse situation of the earlier military scholars who eschewed detailing the impact of technological changes in preference for maintaining the myth of heroic leadership, not to let the technology itself overshadow the very human components of war. It is important not to forget that no matter whether it is by an arrow, a bullet, a missile, or a bomb; a soldier killed by any one of these is still dead. And that regardless of which of the above is deployed it is deployed by a human – whether by pressing a button, pulling a trigger, or launching a spear by hand.2 Therefore this book engages with the phenomenon of military technology whilst trying to remain cognisant of the fact that war is fundamentally a human ‘bodily and emotional experience’, a ‘politics of injury’ based around the injuring and killing of other human beings (Sylvester, 2013, p. 1; see also Scarry, 1987; McSorley, 2013).
Whilst Boot and others reflect backwards on the historical developments in warfare in order to trace wider trends, this book is concerned with the specific implications of the introduction of robotics into warfare. I focus on this area because it is particularly salient and timely given the recent and rapid increase in the number and types of robots utilised in warfare (for example, Singer, 2011; Sparrow, 2007; The Economist, 2012). The academic literature on the introduction of robots to the battlefield has ranged widely from considerations of ethics, legality, autonomy, strategic effectiveness, and political implications (see Asaro, 2008; Pagallo, 2011; Danielson, 2011; Roff, 2014; Stone, 2004; Simpson, 2011). In discussions replete with references to The Terminator (1984) and The Matrix (1999) amongst other sci-fi and dystopian movies, commentators herald the era of the robot with a mixture of glee and terror (Sparrow, 2007; The Economist, 2012; Matthew, 2015). Many of these commentators identify the ‘non-humanness’ of robots as problematic in war: some argue that robots wil...

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Citation styles for Gender and Drone Warfare
APA 6 Citation
Clark, L. (2019). Gender and Drone Warfare (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2019)
Chicago Citation
Clark, Lindsay. (2019) 2019. Gender and Drone Warfare. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Clark, L. (2019) Gender and Drone Warfare. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Clark, Lindsay. Gender and Drone Warfare. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2019. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.