Katharine Hall

Postdoctoral Fellow, Society of Fellows

As a geographer studying Western violence and contemporary configurations of state power, my work draws across the fields of political geography, critical security studies, and science and technology studies.  Methodologically, I have a strong interest in archival research and how it can inform and connect to theoretical engagements, especially in the areas of critical theory and the history and philosophy of science and mathematics.

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I currently have two primary areas of research. The first is focused on the history of drone technology from the start of the 20th century to the present in order to understand the significance of the increasing centrality of drones to current American military engagements and security practices more generally.  Using archival research for three main periods of drone research and development – the early years of World War I and II in the UK, the Cold War, and the 1990s – I argue that the contemporary drone strike reflects the emergence of a practice I call lethal surveillance, which signals the merging of practices of killing and targeting with techniques of surveillance and knowledge production. Over the course of the 20th century, we see attempts to develop and link these two areas of modern warfare, whether through the increasing importance of information to warfare under the rubric of intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance or the shift toward more dynamic, speedier, and individualized targeting practices. Lethal surveillance names the increasing intertwinement of these practices and requires us to place contemporary drone wars within longer histories of modern scientific thinking, Western violence, and liberal governance.


This project has resulted in a series of articles and forms the basis of my current book project, which further develops the argument that the drone reflects, as well as must be understood through, intersecting histories of modern scientific practice and Western violence.  Drawing on and expanding archival research I already conducted, I am focusing in more detail on the early years of drone research and development and look closely at drone projects in the UK in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. In particular, I am looking at British scientific tests of the “Larynx” drone, some of which were conducted in Iraq at the end of the 1920s. The aim of examining this time period is to better understand the relationship between scientific development and Western governance and violence that are increasingly linked today in the practice of lethal surveillance and to place these within the context of emerging strategies of air power.  Furthermore, the case of the Larynx Iraq tests points to a potential early thread of colonial governance, air power, and control in the longer history of drone development that can inform our current thinking about drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.


Over the last year, I have started a second area of research that stems from an interest in connections between military technologies and domestic security practices and focuses on the militarization of police violence in the United States. Specifically, I am looking at the 1985 confrontation between the MOVE organization and the Philadelphia police, which resulted in the police dropping a bomb on a row house in a predominately black neighborhood of Philadelphia.  I am interested in the intersections of police violence, racialization, the military, and state power, as well as connecting the MOVE confrontation to longer historical geographies of the militarization of police violence prior to September 11, 2001. 

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010B Steele
HB 6017
PhD University of Minnesota, 2015

Selected publications

2016. “Drone Strikes, Ephemeral Sovereignty, and Changing Conceptions of Territory.” Territory, Politics, Governance. Published online first: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21622671.2016.1260493



2016. “The Emergence of Lethal Surveillance: Watching and Killing in the History of Drone Technology.” Security Dialogue 47(3): 223-238. Available online: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0967010615616011