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The Construction of the Humanitarian UAV: Intersections of Ethics, Neoliberalism and Biopolitics, and Resultant Implications.

Bolland, T (2020) The Construction of the Humanitarian UAV: Intersections of Ethics, Neoliberalism and Biopolitics, and Resultant Implications. Doctoral thesis, Liverpool John Moores University.

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The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is traditionally understood as a militarised technology utilised in combat and counter-terror scenarios, most notably throughout the Global War on Terror. However, more recently, the UAV has undergone somewhat of a transformation in how its processes and rationalities are conceptualised, being more frequently understood as a technology and technique within humanitarian and assistive contexts. Yet this field, like the technology, is still an emergent one, and understandings of how the ‘humanitarian UAV’ is discursively constituted by a widened range of actors and rationalities is somewhat under- developed. This project seeks to examine and analyse the humanitarian UAV’s wide discursive field, the discursive meaning and logics that constitute the humanitarian UAV, and how the humanitarian UAV, through its attendant rationalities and actors, (re)constitutes and (re)produces distinct understandings of humanitarianism. In focusing on the humanitarian UAV’s wide and variegated discourse, the research draws upon the methodological framework of discourse analysis as pioneered by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, which does not narrowly privilege one form of data but instead de-privileges data as a whole and emphasises the importance in engaging with the broader discourse (here, of the humanitarian UAV) as it is articulated across multiple and dispersed nodal points that convey formations of meaning. This research firstly finds, through an examination of the UAV’s ‘ethical’ discursive constitution, that the UAV is increasingly legitimised as a humanitarian technology by distinct actors and bodies, and, although the meanings that their articulations carry are generally underpinned by different logics, rationalities and motivations, there is an overlap regarding certain neoliberal signifiers. The research also finds, through analysing the widely articulated notion ‘democratisation of technology’, that the humanitarian UAV (and humanitarianism more generally) is increasingly constituted by, and helps to reproduce and naturalise, neoliberal-capitalist rationalities and practices. The research finds that these rationalities also serve to negate certain –‘deepened’– understandings of ‘technological democratisation’ that are antagonistic to the logics of neoliberalism, signalling a partial closure of a number of avenues that seek to renegotiate hegemonic, and other entrenched, humanitarian, formations of power. The research also finds that, through humanitarianism’s discursive association with the biopolitical, the rationalities of neoliberalism are incorporated into a humanitarian-biopolitical nexus, facilitating corporatised forms of humanitarian governance, regulation and control. The ‘humanitarian UAV’ is thus established as that which is increasingly engaged in legitimised –though distinct– forms of ‘humanitarian’ practice via the neutralising and encompassing rationalities of neoliberal-capitalism, which further breaches and affects humanitarian practice and humanitarian populaces through its biopolitical lens. The research highlights that these rationalities, in combination with the application of the humanitarian UAV, co-constitutively sustain and reproduce their own processes and logics, thus incrementally transforming humanitarian space into humanitarian- neoliberal/corporatised-biopolitical (‘corporo-political’) arenas of control and regulation, underpinned by market concerns and the entrenching of dominant power arrangements. Overall, this research highlights how neoliberal and biopolitical rationalities increasingly constitute the humanitarian UAV, humanitarianism and humanitarian space. Furthermore, these rationalities are modified through this technology and its attendant logics and practices by virtue of its extended reach into the spaces constituted by bodies of heightened insecurity, precarity and crisis. It is understood, consequently, that this form of (humanitarian) technologisation highlights the reach, elasticity and imminence of neoliberal and biopolitical rationalities across increasingly diverse environments.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: uav; humanitarian; biopolitics; neoliberalism; ethics; discourse
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HE Transportation and Communications
T Technology > T Technology (General)
T Technology > TL Motor vehicles. Aeronautics. Astronautics
Divisions: Humanities & Social Science
Date Deposited: 01 Dec 2020 11:11
Last Modified: 01 Dec 2022 00:50
DOI or ID number: 10.24377/LJMU.t.00014109
Supervisors: Tyrer, D and Millward, P
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/14109
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