Tactical Drone Use and Vertical Mediation at Standing Rock
As part of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology Winter Speakers Series, Lisa Parks, professor of Comparative Media Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will present “Tactical Drone Use and Vertical Mediation at Standing Rock.”
From April 2016 to February 2017 protestors gathered at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota — and beyond — to protest the construction of a 1,172-mile-long Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL) by Energy Transfer Partners. As the protests went on for months they attracted thousands of Native Americans and non-Native allies and made global news headlines as the activists, who called themselves “water protectors,” engaged in a series of standoffs with federal and local law enforcers and private security teams.
A distinguishing aspect of the protests was the creation of a tactical model of civilian drone use by Native American activists, Dean Dedman Jr. (Sioux) and Myron Dewey (Newe-Numah/Paiute-Shoshone). Drawing upon discussions with Dewey and Dedman, anti-DAPL drone media, state documents released in FOIA requests and leaks, Parks conceptualizes and analyzes vertical mediation at Standing Rock, focusing on the drone media aesthetics and tactical positionalities of Dedman and Dewey as well as the surveillance practices of law enforcers. The aim of the analysis is to draw further critical awareness to the relations between vertical power, drone technologies and publics, and to highlight the surveillance strategies and discourses of U.S. state and federal officers in their efforts to criminalize civilian drone use by activists. The paper suggests that the anti-DAPL protests expose state forms of vertical power that are immanent with the globalization of the civilian drone economy, and concludes with a brief discussion of the importance of tribal sovereignty claims over the air space above their lands.
Parks is a media scholar whose research focuses on three areas: satellite technologies and media cultures; critical studies of media infrastructures; and media, militarization and surveillance. Parks is the author of Cultures in Orbit: Satellites and the Televisual (Duke University Press, 2005), Rethinking Media Coverage: Vertical Mediation and the War on Terror (Routledge, 2018), and is co-editor of Life in the Age of Drone Warfare (Duke University Press, 2017), Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures (University of Illinois Press, 2015), Down to Earth: Satellite Technologies, Industries and Cultures (Rutgers University Press, 2012), and Planet TV: A Global Television Reader (New York University Press, 2003).
Parks is a 2018 MacArthur Fellow, and has held visiting appointments at the Institute for Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg) in Berlin, McGill University, the University of Southern California, the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and the IKKM in Weimar. She has been a principal investigator on major research grants from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. State Department, and has collaborated with artists and computer scientists. She is committed to exploring how greater understanding of media systems can inform and assist citizens, scholars and policymakers in the U.S. and abroad to advance campaigns for technological literacy, creative expression, social justice and human rights. Before joining the MIT faculty, Parks was a professor and former department chair of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she also served as director of the Center for Information Technology and Society.