Project summary

Since 9/11, drones have moved from the margins of the military to reshape war and surveillance, but they have also had wide-ranging effects on visual culture and the creative arts. This project aims to investigate how drones and other technologies of perception are changing how we bear witness and determine the meaning, importance and truth of events. It seeks to generate new knowledge about the impact of drone warfare and drone technologies on forms and processes of witnessing by analysing both primary and creative texts and by conducting field research into new practices of testimony. 

Anticipated outcomes include a new critical and conceptual framework for witnessing; new terms to inform public debates about the cultural impact of increased reliance on drones in war and culture; and new channels for knowledge exchange between drone and autonomous system designers, humanities scholars and creative practitioners.


  • demonstrate how drones and other autonomous technologies of perception are changing the form, process and impact of witnessing and challenging the privileged status of the human in bearing witness
  • produce a rigorous theoretical framework for witnessing which accounts for the drone as a key technology of perception across both warfare and visual culture
  • improve cultural literacy about drone technologies in the context of war, surveillance and national security
  • establish networks for knowledge exchange between humanities researchers, creative practitioners and robotics engineers around the ethical, cultural and political implications of drones and other technologies of perception.

Benefits & impacts

This project investigates the transformative impact of drones on war and culture. By addressing the gap in knowledge about how these technologies of perception have changed how we bear witness to war, it aims to provide a new critical framework for understanding the ethical, political, and cultural significance of drones. 

The project is designed to have significant benefits beyond academia. It aims to shift public debate from the efficacy of weaponised drones to the way these technologies impact how the meaning, importance and truth of events is determined. It also contributes to socially responsible technology design via knowledge exchange between roboticists and autonomous systems designers, humanities scholars and the artistic community.


Dr Michael Richardson - School of the Arts and Media

Funding body

Australian Research Council / DECRA 

Research area

Media and Cultural Studies