2017. Wilke. "Seeing and Unmaking Civilians in Afghanistan: Visual Technologies and Contested Professional Visions"


"While the distinction between civilians and combatants is fundamental to international law, it is contested and complicated in practice. How do North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) officers see civilians in Afghanistan? Focusing on 2009 air strike in Kunduz, this article argues that the professional vision of NATO officers relies not only on recent military technologies that allow for aerial surveillance, thermal imaging, and precise targeting but also on the assumptions, vocabularies, modes of attention, and hierarchies of knowledges that the officers bring to the interpretation of aerial surveillance images. Professional vision is socially situated and frequently contested with communities of practice. In the case of the Kunduz air strike, the aerial vantage point and the military visual technologies cannot fully determine what would be seen. Instead, the officers’ assumptions about Afghanistan, threats, and the gender of the civilian inform the vocabulary they use for coding people and places as civilian or noncivilian. Civilians are not simply 'found' they are produced through specific forms of professional vision."

Keywords: law, epistemology, politics, power, governance, cultures and ethnicities


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Contributed date

May 27, 2018 - 12:46am

Critical Commentary

This 2017 article Christiane Wilke argues that civilians are made through specific forms of professional vision and expertise. 



Cite as

Christiane Wilke, "2017. Wilke. "Seeing and Unmaking Civilians in Afghanistan: Visual Technologies and Contested Professional Visions"", contributed by , STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 27 May 2018, accessed 29 June 2022. https://stsinfrastructures.org/content/2017-wilke-seeing-and-unmaking-civilians-afghanistan-visual-technologies-and-contested