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Geography Compass 2/5 (2008): 13181336, 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2008.00149.

Aeromobilities: Geographies, Subjects and

Peter Adey*
Earth Sciences and Geography, Keele University


Studies of the social and cultural dimensions of airspace and aerial transportation
have evaded much geographical investigation until recently. While transport
geographers have sought to trace out the economic, political and organisational
dimensions and linkages air-transport creates between places, new scholarship is
beginning to contribute through disparate techniques, theories and methodologies,
more sensitive to social and cultural theory. As this article suggests, however, they
have not gone far enough in exploring both the multiple spatialities of aeromobility
and, furthermore, the spaces in which aeromobilities count most critically for
human life and quality. This article provides a short overview of recent research
that has used a disparate set of approaches to the study of aeromobilities. Issues from
passenger profiling, strategic bombing to extraordinary rendition are explored.

In 1955, Possony and Rosenzweig attempted to set out an investigation
of the geography of the air as a new research focus. While at first the
authors limited their scoping of this geography to the physical differences
of the air in various locations and altitudes (Possony and Rosenzweig
1955, 1), the political scientists were more fervently interested in the
implications of this geography for flying and human activity. More specifically,
they wanted to know what that invisible sea in which we live, the air
(Possony and Rosenzweig 1955, 1) meant for international relations, strategy
and foreign policy.
While Possony and Rosenweig (1955) made some interesting observations
and should be applauded for stimulating an awareness of the importance
of air geography or aerogeography, their conception of this geography
was rather unsophisticated. Needless to say, this is really not all that startling
and it would be unfair to suggest otherwise given when the article was
written. The authors set out how the physical characteristics of airspace
constrained and enabled aerial activity, from the simple implications of air
currents, altitudes and temperatures. Deploying a flat and one-dimensional
conception of geography as physical space, their approach lacked a sense
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Aeromobilities: geographies, subjects and vision 1319

of the multiple social, cultural, political and economic geographies that

are tied up in the air; they saw these rather as a simple by-product or
In light of the recent research agenda occurring within the arts, humanities
and social sciences (Adey forthcoming; Cresswell 2001, 2006b; Merriman
2007; Urry 2007; Urry and Sheller 2006)1 the apparent mobile turn
research has sought to recover and surpass Possony and Rosenweigs
approach through an analysis of how airspaces, from the air to their related
spatialities on the ground, are moved through.
In many examples, airports and aircraft have been shown as signifiers
of our contemporary mobile world (Aug 1995; Castells 1996; Gottdiener
2000; Hannam et al. 2006; Pascoe 2001). Western societies are made and
constituted by air-travel, allowing social relationships, networks and associations to be held and maintained by what Claus Lassen (2006) and Paul
Virilio ([1985] 2005) before him have termed aeromobilities (Cwerner
2006; Cwerner et al. 2008). Continuing work in transportation geography
has served to trace out the complex linkages of airline flight networks and
organisational patterns. Drawing out these vectors uncovers the elaborate
relationships that connect certain places to others by air-travel, pinpointing
hierarchical structures of the most global and interconnected places (Vowles
2006; Zook and Brunn 2006). Other work on the social and cultural
dimensions of air-travel (Adey et al. 2007) has explored the relationship
between air-travel, identity and ways of belonging (Adey 2006a; Corn
1983; Fritzsche 1992; Simmons and Caruana 2001; Wohl 1994). The airport
terminal has become a focus for much of this thinking, drawing analysis
of what it means to inhabit these spaces as sites of alienation, strange
encounters and inequality. For others, the airport can be seen as a place
of home, relative stasis and dwelling (Adey 2006b, 2007; Crang 2002;
Cresswell 2006). Elsewhere the symbol of the aeroplane has influenced
ways of imagining ones place in relation to the rest of the world (Pascoe
2003), acting as a builder of national identity and citizenship (Raguraman
1997). While the geographical relations of the aircraft cabin, or the aircraft
cockpit, witnesses the performance of gender relations (Whitelegg 2005),
Lucy Budd (forthcoming 2008) plots the spaces outside the aircraft window,
examining the complex geographies of airspace management.
In short, one way of approaching the geography of the air or aerial
geographies has been to explore how they are travelled through by
various means of air-transport. A consideration of the social, cultural and
political inflections of aeromobilities takes much more than the matter of
atmospheric particles, or wind currents as its concern. Rather, the related
infrastructures, spaces and architectures that support these mobilities that
make air-travel possible add up to a complex and disparate spatiality an
interlocking system of aerial geographies.
In many ways, however, this work has not gone far enough merely
scratching at the surface of potential and developing research directions
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1320 Aeromobilities: geographies, subjects and vision

that this article seeks to address. Let me outline one major shortcoming
of this work. While air-travel enables societies, it also has the capacity to
disable them. War in the 20th century was war waged predominantly by
the aeroplane. From the air raids of the Blitz to the newest unmanned
reconnaissance aircraft, aeromobilities provide both promise and possibility,
as well as dread, terror, destruction (both urban and environmental) and death.
Furthermore, it is in the spaces of air-travel, where societies are increasingly
regulated and curtailed (Salter 2007a, 2008). As flight becomes a dominant
mode of border crossing, international mobility, and a potential vehicle
for state and terrorist violence, the spaces of air-travel have become some
of the most intensely segregated and hierarchical as well as the most
monitored and controlled (Crang 2002). Simply put, the domains in which
we look at air-travel or aeromobilities needs expanding to the securitised
and militarised contexts from which the technology originally began
and the contemporary contexts to which it is now being put. We cannot
avoid some of the truly scary situations where aeromobilities are
found; how do they involve death, terror, humiliation, fear, destruction,
inequality or discrimination? As Caren Kaplan (2006) recently claims, the
topic of violence remains incredibly elusive from conceptions of mobility,
and thus considerations of the entangled histories of war and mobility
serve as an important corrective (Kaplan 2006, 395; see also Virilio
[1985] 2005).
This article is intended to provide a step in the direction of this kind of
research by providing an overview of what has and is being done. It will
only succeed in presenting a slice of what this kind of geography does and
could look like by presenting exciting research from geographers and
beyond to exploring a set of specific geographies of aeromobilities that
intersect both visual registers and practices.2 At the same time, while the
issues presented above demand an increasingly critical analysis of aeromobilities, it is because of their crucial nature that they have been so difficult
to get at methodologically. This is ironic given that aerial geographies are
usually imperceptible, ephemeral or concealed. The article will also attend
to the mobile methodologies (see Urry 2007) aeromobilities require as their
major issues and implications are exposed.
The article is divided into four key sections that deal with different
various ways that the visual and aeomobilities intersect, cross-cutting several
domains and contexts. The first section looks at the more traditional idea
of the aeromobile cosmic view, I then deal with seeing into the future,
before borders and thresholds and then finishing with more embodied and
anticipatory ways of seeing.
Cosmic Views
The aerial view is often aligned with knowledge. The view from above
has been understood as an epistemological gaze a view that permits
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Aeromobilities: geographies, subjects and vision 1321

knowing although not necessarily understanding (de Certeau 1984). In this

section, we can examine a number of different approaches to the aerial
If we associate a view from above with the view from the aeroplane, it
is not surprising that seeing, height and distance appear to assemble an
epistemological optic that permits one to know all. For James Scott (1998;
Lefebvre 1991), this view enables a certain kind of legibility resembling
a map. To look down is to see, and see things not possible from the
ground. Imperceptible patterns, a new kind of synoptic gaze that takes
in original knowledge is entirely possible from the air (Benjamin 1985).
The plan of Brasilia, for instance, was modelled on the shape of an
aeroplane, only visible from high above or the top-down perspective of
a map (Scott 1998).3
With knowledge, command and control can result. Nodding to the
long association with the aeroplane and politics, historians Peter Fritzsche
(1992) and Robert Wohl (1994, 2005) show how the aerial view is commonly aestheticised. Juxtaposing German gliding schools, futurist paintings,
or the view from the mountains of Adolf Hitlers alpine hideaway, they
illustrate the complicity of the aerial perspective with fascist politics. In a
sense, the aeroplane was a further step in the development of an aerial view
or an aerial imagination. In domains such as landscape survey, it was a
simple progression from the position of the high hill or mountain. What
David Matless (1999) describes as a sky-situated knowledge, it compared
with the skyscraper which brought with it, perhaps, the first position to
permit an airminded way of knowing and being (Adey 2006a; de Certeau
1984). In war, it was a step-up from the height of the horse-mounted
cavalry or the nearest high point (Virilio 1986).
According to Stephen Kerns (2003) all-encompassing study, the aerial
view, therefore, shunted forwards new forms of consciousness to both a skysituated knowledge and an awareness of elsewhere. For Denis Cosgrove
(2001), who looks at the aerial gaze in the context of other global world
visions, this was the airmans point-of-view (see also 1994); it was a kind
of vision that took the form of a mastering view across space and time
(Cosgrove 2001, 243). As Caren Kaplan (2006) explains, this expanded
horizons by constituting a belief that this personal eye, liberated from the
bounded embeddedness on earth, in movement, can see almost limitlessly.
With aerial photography in war, the aeroplane allowed a preliminary form
of telescopic sight (Virilio 1986). It captured ahead and it captured change.
But in mastering time and space by seeing limitlessly the aerial view
constituted a new total gaze with serious implications. For Kaplan, the
aerial view served as an impetus for conflict. It promised to link subjects
previously distant in all too uncomfortable proximities. It allowed one to
conceive of the globe as one, becoming what Cosgrove (2001) describes
as a powerful trope for, not only military strategy [. . .] but also for
political shaping of the postwar global order (p. 243).
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1322 Aeromobilities: geographies, subjects and vision

From the first reconnaissance planes of World War I, to Gary Powers

U2 spy plane, knowledge has been gleaned by seeing from up-on-high.
Efforts such as the British and American surveying of the Falkland Islands,
provided in Paul Virilios words, a vital prosthesis for military strategists,
as well as a match to ignite nationalist sentiment. Klaus Dodds (2000)
shows how aerial photography was a source of considerable tension for
national relationships. Dodds describes how in the context of the Antarctic
survey the Americans demonstrated a supreme capacity to produce countless
maps and aerial photographs of territory (Dodds 2000, 195). Enabled by
the aeroplane, the photograph and the map created their own sort of
visual territory a contested set of aerial achievements.
Today, the aerial view as a totalising gaze has reached its maxim, effective
not only in war but as a pervasive form of total social control in a general
era of terror. Unlike earlier aerial reconnaissance that worked on the
principle of the line or the vector to determine linear bombing runs,
todays aerial observation techniques observe more than a line but conduct
their own kind of area bombing or rather capturing. This kind of visualisation is now supposedly total rather than partial. Todays geopolitical
contestations may involve strategies of full spectrum dominance or a total
information awareness that requires all forms of information to be seen
and recorded. A well-observed example of this can be found in the Israeli
occupation of Palestinian airspace. Created a viewing platform from which
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) can see, UAVs criss-cross aerial space
in order to capture more than optical information, for they see absolutely.
Or rather, they convey disciplinary power in their apparent scope to see
beyond the visual. As Eyal Weizmann (2002) describes, occupation of the
skies gives Israel a presence across the whole spectrum of the electromagnetic
field, and enables total observation. Airspace is primarily a place to see
from, offering the Israeli Air Force an observational vantage point for
policing airwaves alive with electromagnetic signals from the visible to
the radio and radar frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Furthermore, in the current climate of terrorism and suspicion in the
Israel-Palestine conflict, aerial surveillance is directed towards more than
military targets but civilian domains. For Weizmann (2002),
In a vacuum-cleaner approach to intelligence gathering, sensors aboard
unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), aerial reconnaissance jets, early warning Hawkeye
planes, and even an Earth-Observation Image Satellite, snatch most signals out
of the air. Every floor in every house, every car, every telephone call or radio
transmission, even the smallest event that occurs on the terrain, can thus be
monitored, policed or destroyed from the air.

The reach of the aeromobile gaze allows almost all to be known. For
Graham (2004), this kind of extensibility upturns the telescopic sight
Virilio refers to earlier. Everyday actions on the ground have a vertical
dimensionality, a signature that may be captured from above leaked by
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Aeromobilities: geographies, subjects and vision 1323

telemediation. The surveillance of the West Bank creates a geopolitical

verticalisation leading to an intense telescoping of spatial scales as geography
collapses (Graham 2004, 21).
In the previous section, aeromobilities were shown to permit a way of
seeing-as-knowing: a knowledge of far off places, a complexity only made
legible by pulling up and away from the milieu of the ground. Even while
Virilio (1986) suggests that these techniques were able to capture change
and movement a way of looking back this knowledge was also rather
presentist, continuously made out-of-date by the failure of re-presentation
to update itself (Thrift and Dewsbury 2000). In this section, I suggest that
the aeromobilities have created other forms of seeing that project not back
but forwards that see in order to predict and anticipate potential futures.
The first sort of vision we can deal with is the way seeing is done by
numbers; a way to address potential aerial mobilities and the uncertainties
that pass the airport/border. To the space of the airport terminal, we may
turn to understand the prevalence of statistical techniques of calculation.
Practices of risk management allow a reaching forwards a way to grasp
the future. For Mark Salter (2007b, 2008), quantification transforms risks
or threats into numerate forms. The complex mobilities of the airport
system which could not previously be seen can be now made legible and
calculable. Surveys of detection rate, average passenger wait times, number
of prohibited items seized, for Salter (2008), serve to make incalculable
threats real, forming new possible objects, profiles, or groups. These sorts
of techniques effectively create things, and make risks tangible in order
that their threatening actuality can be managed (Bigo 2006; Foucault
2007; OMalley 2004).
Other ways of seeing ahead draw on the use of numbers as a way to
fast forward to potential futures, before playing them over and over again.
Within an early iteration of aviation, the field of operations research was
born. As a kind of combat science (Rau 2005), operations research was
developed by the Tizard Air Committee during World War II to test and
predict strategies of air-defence in the face of aerial attack. Operations
research addressed uncertainty and indecision to stop war being conducted
by gusts of mood, instincts and intuitions. It made predictions, and the
subsequent validation of those predictions (Gray 1997; Mirowski 2001).
Photo surveys and operational research techniques combined as Barnes
and Farish (2006) show in the US Office of Strategic Services. Aerial
reconnaissance and optimisation models identified targets and approved
bombing runs, whose logics were calculative rather than corporeal as
Derek Gregory (2006, 98) goes further to suggest. These, in short, relocated the sites of destruction in an abstract rather than an affective space
(Gregory 2007, 98) and, thereby, provided a sense of emotional detachment.
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1324 Aeromobilities: geographies, subjects and vision

While we might present these visualities as both cold and calculating

or rationally cognitive, other sorts of visioning ahead are far less detached
and, indeed, use these affects (Anderson 2006) as almost a resource. For
instance, cultural theorist Lisa Parks describes her experience of the close
sensing techniques of police and security screeners at the airport/border.
Touch goes hand in hand with visual scrutiny in order to filter out good
from bad circulations (Dillon and Lobo-Guerrero 2008). As Parks writes,
When all of our personal things are reduced to transparencies, they are not just
objects to be looked at, they become symptomatic of a more permeating gaze,
in which the state not only reserves the right to touch what it sees, but also
uses its visual capital to temporarily evacuate the vitality or materiality of
objects as part of the process of trying to reduce or eliminate threats to its own
future. (Parks 2007, 195)

Such techniques work on a principle of what Dillon (2007) calls dangerous

becomings. A vitality is ascribed to inanimate objects now redundant
yet liable to transform into far more threatening things. Parks writes,
no object is un-threatening in the war on global terror whether it is
me, my camera or the deodorant, hairspray or lipstick that lay in the trash
(Parks 2007, 197).
Those familiar with computer consoles such as the Playstation will realise
how these sorts of anticipations are embodied, trained and tested in
increasingly realistic immersive virtual environments (Graham 2008). This
was an issue not lost on Paul Virilio (1986) who noticed the employment
of pilot simulators in commercial and military pilot training to simulate
emergencies, pre-empt crises, and manufacture enemy aircraft all as threats
(Der Derian 2001). Edwin Links link trainer afforded the first sort of
preparation for the sensuous and affective geographies of air flight and
combat, that has since been upgraded digitally to realistic computer
simulations (Halter 2006). Accordingly, the threat of aeromobilities as
passenger and luggage uncertainties or even unruly aircraft serve as
Jordan Crandall describes to shift toward real time engagements and
continuous, heightened states of alertness and preparedness, in such a way
as to generate an embodied state of receptivity (Crandall 2006). Here, we
have then the creation of what Crandall goes on to call an individual and
collective alertness-on-the-edge-of-action (Crandall 2006), where the
impassioned and split-second responses are not discarded, but welcomed.
In Louise Amoores (2007) eyes, this receptivity is playing out in an
emergent vigilant visuality. This is a bodily irritability or an attentiveness
to suspicious behaviour; a practice quite common among airport and
airline passengers conducting their own kinds of surveillance and monitoring,
albeit on each other, and realised in the researchers own experiences of
these sorts of suspicious feeling forwards (Crandall 2006). Such attitudes
may be found in security personnel and screeners who must thin-slice
(Gladwell 2005) in order to spot threats immediately. Snap decisions and
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Aeromobilities: geographies, subjects and vision 1325

quick judgements may be socialised and habituated into an unconscious

disposition to act, or literally programmed into software algorithms.
Transposed from the shooting at Stockwell tube station, the racial profiling
of Charles de Menezes throws into relief the well-publicised practices by
airline and airport security personnel in airports, where suspicious behaviour,
or the colour of ones skin, reinforces and reproduces threatening and
racialised narratives of catastrophe. For Mike Curry (2004; see also Dodge
and Kitchin 2004) and other scholars from fields such as surveillance
studies (Bennett 2006; Lyon 2003), these kinds of narratives are reproduced
within software systems such as the much-maligned Computer Assisted
Passenger Pre-Screening (CAPPS) which used specific data collected
about passengers to place them automatically (Thrift and French 2002)
into specific risk profiles that deserved more or less attention and scrutiny.
These cases demonstrate the emergence of automatically actionable racialised
regimes of visuality that may come unquestioned and unchallenged
(Pugilese 2006).
The kinds of efforts to see ahead just discussed appear to create and as we
will see later unmake certain thresholds, thresholds between the here and
now, with the then or what is to come. As a way to intervene in these
futures, other thresholds are drawn. Ironically, all of this is happening over
the thresholds of states.
For instance, geographers have become concerned with how aeromobilities
maintain, stabilise and sometimes unravel boundaries and borders. Geographer
Alison Williams (2007) discusses a kind of projective form of air-power,
both visually perceived and registered. As Williams (2007) writes, power
projection is an effect, rather less tangible perhaps than bombing a citys
electricity supply or blowing up key parts of a transport infrastructure, but
still an effect with a definite outcome (p. 517). In the worlds major
conflict zones, low-flying aircraft such as UAVs provide a visual delimitation of power a performance of a boundary drawn. In the context of
Iraq, Williams (2007) asserts that UAVs provide a visual and aural reminder
of space under Iraqi control and that under coalition control (p. 523).
We might compare this sort of equivalent or dependent relationship to
Urrys (2003) conception of mobilities and moorings. For Williams, the
static border requires the continual maintenance or enforcement of its
boundaries by the perpetually mobile aircraft, like a shark that dies if it
stops swimming, so an aircraft ceases to be a useful tool of power projection
if it is not in flight (Williams 2007, 509). For the researcher, lines on the
map do little justice to the borders animated corporeal reality that is seen
and felt.
In a rather different context, Louise Amoore (2006) makes a similar
point when she pulls together the shooting of de Menezes with newly
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1326 Aeromobilities: geographies, subjects and vision

installed biometric devices that manage border control entry at airports.

According to Amoore, as all senses of personal boundaries and space are
crossed by the airport security check, borders are being drawn and
performed. Biometric technologies such as iris or fingerprint recognition
have become a common enough practice in airports in order for passengers to prove their identities. Yet, this physical crossing contravenes much
more than the impasse of space. Transgressions are socially incurred across
various other boundaries of what is right and wrong, who is safe or
threatening, who has the right to travel and who does not. As Amoore
puts it, these kinds of aeromobilities traverse and inscribe the boundaries
of safe/dangerous, civil/uncivil, legitimate traveller/illegal migrant (Amoore
2006, 338).
Biometrics permits more than the identification of ones identity. Diken
and Lausten (2006) explore how new techniques may now permeate the
thresholds of clothes and even the skin; full-body X-ray machines seek
concealed weapons and explosives. Although some efforts are being made
to discover intent, it is far harder to do so (Adey 2008; Salter 2006), both
within the security officers and even the researchers interview. Thus,
passenger aeromobilities are conceived as prosthetic subjects or rather hosts
for threatening objects and other organic things. Keil and Ali (2007)
describe how physiological characteristics became indicative clues to discover
severe acute respiratory syndrome in Toronto in 2003. Organisms, other
than human (Dillon 2007), are literally searched out as the passenger is
imaged and imagined as host. Airports become biopolitical switching
stations (Keil and Ali 2007) from which passengers are screened for the
stowaway of a dangerous symbient life.
The passage through these sorts of security stops, blockages or filters
can be incredibly uneven as the border operates as a sort of permeable
membrane permitting some movements with speed and disallowing or
slowing down others (Lyon 2007; Wood and Graham 2006). The kinetic
elite to use a phrase first coined by Peter Sloterdijk and later drawn on by
Steve Graham and Simon Marvin (2001; see also Adey 2004a,b; Beaverstock
et al. 2004; Cresswell 2001, 2006) buy their speedy mobilities through
the airport terminal and through these social boundaries. As a filter, the
airport sorts risky and less wealthy passengers, and especially inquisitive
academics from these premium networked spaces.
This line of enquiry further complicates the body/border relationship
if we turn to the practice of extraordinary rendition. Matthew Sparke
(2006) makes this analysis in his examination of the biometric-enabled fast
border processing scheme on the USCanadian airport border. Sparke
juxtaposes the mobilities afforded by post-national citizens, the super
mobility enjoyed by todays kinetic and corporate elite in padded gulfstream
jets and the transportation of terror suspects to countries with histories of
using torture. In these cases, other thresholds are drawn and crossed.
According to David Mutimer (2007) working on the case of Maher Arer,
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Aeromobilities: geographies, subjects and vision 1327

the Canadian Syrian exported to Syria where he was imprisoned and

tortured, such a practice passes the human out of the thresholds of
citizenship and the rights it affords. Rendered a bare life (Agamben
1998), Arer was displaced from boundaries of security and the laws of the
state (on law and mobility, see Cresswell 2006).
Of course, such practices exhibit another kind of visuality. By taking
advantage of what Williams (2007, 507) describes as the unseen nature of
the air, extraordinary rendition emphasises an aesthetics of disappearance
(Virilio [1985] 2005). Terror suspects deported by extraordinary rendition
have been transported by ghost planes undertaken under the cover of
public awareness, media scrutiny and oversight. Private aeromobilities,
aircraft, airfields and contractors facilitate the silent running of this practice,
so that the already incomprehensible world of air-transport becomes even
more obscure. The actual corporeal practice of rendition cannot be grasped
very easily; the destinations and prison networks remain incredibly shadowy
(Gregory 2004). And yet, the aeromobility of rendition is far more visible.
Mobilities draw paths and they leave traces (Hagerstrand 1967). Geometries
of relations can be cast to establish connections and links between unlikely
actors and locales (Paglen and Thompson 2006, 114). This sort of geography
requires the kind of research which Trevor Paglen and A. C. Thompson
employ: a detective work of actor-network resemblance (Cook 2004; Latour
1987) to track down the multiple identities, spaces and domains in which
torture flights exist and are constituted. Tracking the traces of rendition,
Paglen and Thompson followed aircraft on the computer screens of flight
track monitoring software and commercially available radar; they listened
to radio-call broadcasts picked up by aviation scanners; visited non-existent
companies and lawyers offices, and scrutinized passenger manifests and documents requested from the Federal Aviation Authority. While the flights were
fleeting their traces were not. Everyday forms of observation, and everyday
observers such as planespotters, other flight logs and traffic patterns, plus
other material artefacts, help reveal the hidden and distributed geographies
of extraordinary rendition (Paglen and Thompson 2006, 120).
Nowhere are observations that borders are delocalising (Salter 2004) more
relevant than here as the relation between speed and vision complicates
itself. Judgements may now be made at a distance; the border is moved
away from the threshold of territory, or internal borders such as airports,
by a brand of pre-emptive logic. The implementation of the virtual
border by new sorts of information gathering operate far beyond US
boundaries (Amoore 2006, 337), allowing airport inspectors to make
decisions over a passengers entry, even before the passenger has left their
airport of departure (Dodge and Kitchin 2004). Likewise, Arers exclusion
from the boundaries of the USA, and his rights as a citizen, were taken
away even before he could contest his extradition (Vaughn-Williams
2007). In this logic, the threshold of the border and the decision of who
or what may cross it, has moved both spatially and temporally.
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1328 Aeromobilities: geographies, subjects and vision

Shock, Awe and Emergencies

Other implications of aeromobility involve a similar acceleration of vision,
so much so that the capability of sight and foresight begins to overtake
and almost overcome itself. Key to this process is the relationship between
visuality and the way future events are embodied in anticipation.
Taking the perspective that Kenneth Hewitt (1983) describes as the
view from below a view from under the bombs (Hewitt 1994, 2)
cultural geographers, and historians of war and psychology such as Hewitt,
Phil Hubbard and Keith Lilley (2004), Johanna Bourke, Edgar Jones and
Bill Durodie (2004, 2006) have conducted research that explores the
impact of aerial bombing on populations, from London and Coventry to
Berlin in World War II (Sebald 2003), to more recent examples in Iraq,
Palestine, Afghanistan and Darfur (Campbell 2007). Indeed, the view from
below is sometimes the easiest yet the most painful perspective to be gotto through the recovery of personal experiences and memories.
Diffusing bloated myths of endless stoicism and eager steadfastness (Calder
1971; Harrisson and Mass 1979), they point to the importance of understanding the expressive embodiments of those on the receiving end of
aerial war. Chaos, freezing in fear, or running in panic, were common
disruptions anticipated by numerous writers and outspoken scientists (Orr
2006; Wohl 2005). These premonitions were imbued with a racialised
politics of mobility that intertwined with an assumption of who would
affect or be affected (Bourke 2005; Massumi 2002). However, it was also
clear that the public experienced these responses not necessarily as the
result of an aerial bombardment but in anticipation. Anticipatory affects
caused the very disruptions the government feared (Bialer 1980).4
Brian Massumi (2005) explores how these sorts of anticipatory affects
illuminate a kind of pre-emptive logic. For Massumi, this has reached its
apex in the airport terminal, set not in the context of a knock out blow,
but in the situation of pre-emptive foreign policies and a wider state of
emergency. Massumi discusses the instance of an airport security alert in
Montreal Airport in May 2005. The airport was evacuated and shutdown
because of a package that was suspected to be the toxic substance anthrax.
Eventually, the substance was found to be simply flour. Yet, as Massumi
(2005) describes, what the flour could have been it is potentiality as
anthrax performed a sort of affective time-slip. We should remember
Lisa Parks (2007) valuable comments on threatening objects, for here the
everyday scrutiny practiced by security screeners exploded; it was emotionally
amplified into a full-scale airport emergency centred on the object not
as it was but what it could be. As Massumi (2005) explains, the possible
object of danger, is brought forward into the present from its roost in
futurity [. . .] Flour no longer has the conviviality of cake. It sets the
affective tone of the present moment. States of fear and anxiety, common
background feelings in the airport terminal, infuse the object regardless
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Aeromobilities: geographies, subjects and vision 1329

of what it actually is (Massumi 2005, 9). The power of this scenario is

that the identity of the possible object determines the affective quality of
the actual situation (Massumi 2005, 9).
Thus, under the logic of pre-emption magnified in this case, an effort
to stop disruption, public fear and panic to halt catastrophe creates a
catastrophe of its own: it stimulates or induces fear. Acting in advance of
what might happen in an effort to ward off the effects of a possible object
sees dramatic airport closure, decontamination crews and police presence.
The effects ripple outwards. Far-flung airports with originating flights
due to land are affected. The media amplify the alarm in real-time with
live news bulletins. The fear of the disruption has become the disruption
(Massumi 2005, 89). Even an academic observers resourceful bodily
experience of these sorts of atmospheres provides a way into the emotional
state of the emergency.
Pre-emptive strategies have a tendency to induce or stimulate what they
hope to prevent by the pre-visualisation of the threat taken as real and
acted on but then with the tendency to stimulate a fearful impact. But
we must ask more questions about how the effects of these techniques are
anticipated themselves, and, furthermore, what sort of subjects are imagined
to have these particular effects. In taking such a focus, current scholarship
has investigated the imaginings of just what is being targeted by aerial
warfare, from the conception of the civilian, to the rather intangible
concept of morale. As scholarship has demonstrated the embodied effects
of strategic and terror bombing, others have explored how these effects
are imagined and understood within the strategies behind them (Gregory
For Steve Graham and other, cities are often constructed as a target
(Bishop and Clancey 2004; Graham 2003). In an aerial war, cities become
mortal, their diagnosis terminal (Coward 2006; Davis 2002; Grayling 2006).
Infrastructure is also targeted. Airpower effects a subterranean reach, and
an ability to effect low-down through bunker-busting bombs that terminate
buried infrastructures and people. Derek Gregory (2007) and Beau Grosscup
(2006) do more to focus on conception of the civilian target in the aerial
warfare performed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who lie outside this
definition, they are argue, are constructed as other and therefore deserving
of what is coming to them; a justification for both the means and ends of
their life.
For others, contemporary and historic aerial bombardment has constructed what Ben Anderson describes as a targeting of morale. As
Anderson (forthcoming) and others show, bombing campaigns of World
War II saw a less personal attack on individuals, but on an ephemeral
collective consciousness of feeling and/or national will. Similarly, the shock
and awe strategic bombing campaign in the early stages of the Iraq War was
a demonstration of so-called effects-based operations (Anderson forthcoming; Grosscup 2006). Premised on the theories produced by Ullman
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1330 Aeromobilities: geographies, subjects and vision

and Wade (1998), which closely resemble the earlier stratagem of strategic
or moral bombing, shock and awe or rapid dominance is intended as a
strategy to command perception to control the fears, the anxieties the
feelings of the enemy so that it may be catapulted into capitulation. This
targeting was aimed at the visual register, supposedly shocked and awed
by the nightly destruction of Baghdad.
But the visually arresting bombing campaign had a secondary target:
the viewing television audience of the West. The constant exaggeration
of precision by the armed forces and the US administration, indeed, the
brilliance of precision, the extraordinariness of the night attacks was meant
to awe, and thereby legitimate (Grosscup 2006, 6). The visual spectacle
and firework display that lit up the night sky served to communicate back
to the populations sitting behind their televisions screens. As Samuel
Weber writes, we are exhilarated at the sight of such power and control,
we are relieved to be still in one piece (Weber cited in Gregory 2007).
Conclusion: Searching for Aeromobilities
This review was not intended to produce an all-encompassing review of
developments towards the aeromobile in geography and the social sciences.
Rather, I have tried to present a cross section or a thin slicing of pertinent
works. Clearly, this is rather one-sided. It has been a tale of dread, death,
stress and suffering. There is no doubt that aeromobilities are often cast
in quite different ways to this. We know how the aeroplane has been seen
a symbol of promise and a figure of hope. An examination of the joyful
and intense affects of flight would make an interesting study (see McCormacks important forthcoming study on the atmospheric geographies of
balloon flight; or take Bissell 2007 on train travel). And yet, this promise
and hope usually comes with a dark undertone. Saulo Cwerners (2006)
recent study of helicopter travel in So Paulo demonstrates how our initial
excitement at and the lure of vertical mobility actually cloaks quite serious
inequalities of access. The rich users of such transport do so out of
necessity in order to escape the congestion of the city, and out of fear of
being kidnapped for a high-value ransom. I wanted to look at how
geographers and others are dealing with the crucial questions posed
by airspaces and as I have shown aeromobilities; aeromobilities that are
experienced, practiced and anticipated at a visual register with really critical
implications. In this Conclusion, I want to sum up where we have got
to and where further research in this area seems to be moving before
The aeromobilities that the article has discussed compose not a singular
aerial geography, but a multiplicity. From terror flights for extraordinary
rendition to the deployment of UAVs, aeromobilities compose many
different kinds of space. In some ways, airspaces may appear to be socially
constructed. Airspaces are formed by legal treaties and by influential
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Aeromobilities: geographies, subjects and vision 1331

conferences (Butler 2001). They conform as fluid, malleable and performative

spaces that are ontogenetically in-becoming (Dodge and Kitchin 2005).
But we have also seen how they are materially regulated by the projective
power of unmanned aircraft with distinctive material effects. Airspaces have
depth. Aerial geographies are constituted by multiple material geographies
and mobilities; they occupy disparate spaces that perhaps have made their
study quite difficult. For instance, the airport can provide a forcefully
immobile and obdurate barrier to a passenger enrolled on a no-fly watch list,
granting apparent safety to the aircraft that arrives and departs. Aeromobilities may be pinpointed to a vector on a flight track monitoring system
or a simple piece of paper. Citizens on the ground may be surveilled by
the capturing of their aerial outputs. Or, aeromobilities have come to
constitute emotional, affective and pre-cognitive relations, from the emergency
of the airport evacuation to the destruction of an urban psyche (and see
McCormack again on balloon travel). Aerial mobilities and their geographies
are compositions; they are multi-dimensional and disparate. They are both
fixed and yet fluid, carrying the signature of aerial and terrestrial domains
they take many shapes (as Hinchliffe 2007 has put it).
While this article has sought to present some of the most recent work in
aerial geographies namely, aeromobilities there are many other directions
that this sort of research may follow. Recent investigations have explored
the complex social, cultural, economic and political geographies of the
weather; from phenomenological approaches to a cloudy day (Ingold
2005), to the complex associations of weather derivatives (Pryke 2007).
Taking this work, several geographers (Pollard et al. 2008) have explored
the atmospheric dimensionality of firms. Businesses that are learning to
negotiate their socio-biophysical relations (Pollard et al. 2008) with the
weather through all sorts of technologies, visualisations and risk management
approaches, may now grasp the sky as well as a futurity. In these emerging
studies, we almost come full circle. The air demands a sort of spill-over.
Like Possony and Rosensweig, there is a need to take a more nuanced
inter-disciplinary or sub-disciplinary approach that draws together researchers
in order to take the air seriously. Cultural climatologists (Thornes and
McGregor 2003; Thornes 2008) have examined the relationship between
clouds, culture and society. But the sky also forces one to blend together
styles of thought through approaches such as cultural economy in order
to prefix cultural with [the] political (Pryke 2007, 586). Finally, these
interpretations have an ability to spill over from the territory of the aerial,
empirically and conceptually. We can ask questions such as how does what
go on in the air impact on life on the ground? Do our conceptions of
spatiality equally apply to the air, and vice versa?
I would like to have ended the article with the convenient conclusion
that the skys the limit, but in light of the above, and with even more
recent scholarship pushing the boundaries of research into outer space (see
MacDonald 2007), it clearly is not!
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1332 Aeromobilities: geographies, subjects and vision

Thanks are due to the helpful comments of two referees and suggestions
from Ian Cook. The article has benefited from discussion with Ben
Anderson and a collaboration with Lucy Budd. And questions from audiences
at Bristol and Durham also helped tremendously.
Short Biography
Peter Adey is a Lecturer in the School of Physical and Geographical
Sciences and the Institute for Law, Politics and Justice at Keele University,
Keele, UK. He has published peer-reviewed articles on the topic of
mobility, security and air-travel and sits on the editorial board of the
interdisciplinary journal Mobilities. Peters first book, which traces the
evolution of the concept Mobility, will be published by Routledge in 2009.
Forthcoming with Wiley-Blackwell in 2010, Aerial Geographies will investigate
how the social and material spaces of the aeroplane have transfigured the
human subject.
* Correspondence address: Peter Adey, Earth Sciences and Geography, Keele University, William
Smith Building, Keele ST5 5BG, UK. E-mail:

This article is informed and inspired by the new mobilities paradigm.

I do not mean visual in the sense of just the scopic. Instead, I mean the embodied, sensual,
affective, emotional and anticipatory ways of seeing, although this should not imply that they
are ways of thinking necessarily.
It should be noted that the balloon and later the aeroplane were commonly used for the
purposes of scientific pursuit.
On affect and anticipation, see particularly Andersons (2007) arguments in the context of

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Journal Compilation 2008 Blackwell Publishing Ltd