The drone operator and identity: exploring the constitution of ethical subjectivity in drones discourses

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Discourses on lethal drone operations in the twenty-first century have commonly focused on the physical effects of drone strikes – usually by the CIA – on populations and individuals, and on associated disputes over the legitimacy of such actions. Until now, the secrecy surrounding drones programmes has excluded the perspective of serving military drone operators from public and academic debate. Drawing on extensive field research with Royal Air Force Reaper drone personnel, this paper explores how the identity of the drone operator is formed in discourse. Foucault identified the objectivizing of the subject as a means by which an individual’s identity is constituted in discourse, while also highlighting technologies of the self that are used when the individual’s identity is self-created. Further, Foucault’s self-forming ethical subject emerges in two ontologically distinct but entwined trajectories: first, in relation to socially or culturally accepted rules, laws, prohibitions and interdictions, which he calls the moral code; and second, through practices of the self. This paper provides new insight into the actions and identities of British Reaper drone operators, recognizing the previously-unseen, complex and creative ethical dynamics at work in individuals who routinely take decisions and actions that have life or death consequences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-78
JournalCritical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines: CADAAD
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 25 Dec 2017


  • drones
  • Foucault
  • ethics
  • subjectivity
  • technologies


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