Project summary

In an ocean of poachers, pollution, overfishing, prey decline, and climate change, preserving the lives of many endangered marine species requires persistent monitoring by sensing technologies like drones. For academic critics, these conservation drones contribute to a problematic disciplining of a once-wild ocean. For conservationists, drones are necessary tools for protecting threatened marine species. While many scholars debate “the end of nature,” few empirically understand what conservation technologies mean for the supposed convergence of nature and culture as well as the prolonging of non-human life. Ethnographically examining the use of drones in marine conservation, OCEAN/CULTURES explores the fraught but now fundamental relationship between technologies and non-human life in an ocean on the brink of collapse.

In the eight chapters of OCEAN/CULTURES, drones fly through whale breath for health checks, collect data for stories about starving seals, intervene in the poaching of porpoises and sharks, and record disintegrating coral and urban whale migrations. In this work, drones contribute to the mortal cocreation of ocean/cultures—intertwinements of scientists, activists, marine species, atmospheric technologies, and the tumultuous sea. OCEAN/CULTURES makes the uncomfortable argument that slowing extinction might require “blue governmentality” or the entrapment of existence by technologies of science, conservation, and control. This management of life is paradoxical and will never be complete as drones fail, species collapse, and oceans and cultures, although entangled, remain distinct. OCEAN/CULTURES concludes by positing a multispecies ethics that honours that distinction with care and awe.


Scientia Associate Professor Adam Fish

Funding body:

UNSW Scientia Fellowship

Research area:

technology studies, media studies, anthropology, posthumanism