Drone: Anthropology, Poetry, Military

This episode of AnthroPod is about the representation of drone warfare, as told from the perspective of an anthropologist (Hugh Gusterson), a poet (Kim Garcia), and a drone operator on active duty in the U.S. military. We use the pseudonym Major Steven Lerman to refer to this individual in the episode, in order to protect the operator’s identity. This episode was inspired by a March 2017 conference on “Policy, Ethics, and the Future of Drones” hosted by the Integrated Remote and In Situ Sensing (IRISS) initiative at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

When put next to one another, these voices critically engage the ways we think about communities of expertise and war, as well as how we represent the experiences of others. First, we talk to Hugh Gusterson, Professor of International Affairs and Anthropology at George Washington University, about his book Drone: Remote Control Warfare (MIT Press, 2016), the history of U.S. policy regarding the use of militarized drones, and the implications of drone use for theories of war, time, and space, as well as methods of “studying up” and participant-observation in cultures of expertise.

Kim Garcia is the author of the poetry collection DRONE (Backwaters Press, 2016). Her poetry has been published in Crab Orchard Review, Crazyhorse, Mississippi Review, Nimrod, and Subtropics. She has described DRONE as a “lyric meditation on modern warfare,” taking the perspective of a civilian trying to pick up the pieces and understand contemporary military assemblages. Her poetry is woven throughout this episode and we hope it provides a writerly and affective perspective on the representation of war.

Put beside Gusterson’s book, Garcia’s poems ask: how far can and should anthropologists and artists go to understand the experiences of others? Finally, quotes from a conversation we recorded with the drone operator we call Major Steve Lerman look at the often complicated relationships between ethnographers and informants, subjects and objects, which can resemble the difficult slippages between scientific communities and the way their findings are communicated to the public.


Arielle Milkman produced this episode of AnthroPod. Special thanks to Executive Producer Anar Parikh for valuable feedback and to Hugh Gusterson, Kim Garcia, Emily Yeh, Lorraine Bayard de Volo, Willi Lempert, Christian Hammons, and William Lammons for their support.

AnthroPod features interviews with anthropologists about their work, experiences in the field, and current events. To pitch your own episode ideas or to offer feedback, email us at anthropod@culanth.org.

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Introduction: “Sweeter Vermouth,” by Kevin MacLeod

Transitions: “Man Versus Moon,” by Salakapakka Sound System; “Trance-Forme,” by Enrico Falbo; “Lay Down,” by The Paint

Outro: “Precurs 2017,” by Derek Piotr; “Memories from a Dead Star,” by Osiris Saline