Worlds of Military Targeting
: Martial Epistemologies, Technologies and the Production of the Enemy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


How did we end up in a world in which everything and everyone has already been targeted – computationally and algorithmically fused, and correlated, archived and modeled as a multidimensional digital twin? Guided by this question, this thesis is set up as an historical investigation of the conditions of possibility of the present, mapping the trajectories of how military targeting produce and operationalize the enemy and what the effects of these understandings are. Conceptualizing military targeting as a martial epistemology that makes worlds actionable the thesis moves beyond the literature on discursively produced enemy figures. Analyzing targeting through the historical transformations in statistical thought and practice, and the mathematical and computational technologies and techniques of data production, processing and modeling, the aim of the thesis is to illuminate how military targeting mobilizes and configures heterogenous discourses, technologies and practices at different historical junctures and how these assemblages in turn produce and operationalize the enemy, (re)construct environments and enable specific forms of warfare. The thesis thus extends the conceptualization of military targeting beyond recent scholarship exploring the sociotechnical production and conjunction of vision and violence while at the same time bring forward the burgeoning critical literature on war seeking to explore the apparatuses through which war is imagined, assembled and waged.

Designed to traverse the scales between military imaginaries, epistemologies, configurations and cognitive operations, the thesis draws on a wide range of critical practice-relational theories and methodologies at the intersection of critical security and war studies, and science and technology studies. Specifically mobilizing the concepts of ‘configuration’ and ‘cognitive assemblage’ specific attention is paid to the different historical ways in which military imaginaries, humans, instruments and the environment are configured together to form ecologies of operations and how these in turn processes information. Empirically, the thesis maps the historical trajectories and epistemic transformations of US targeting configurations through four chapters from the interbellum years to the present. Each chapter explores how the complex practices and techniques of targeting translate and configure worlds of ‘knowns’ and ‘unknowns’ into enemy models. Historicizing targeting highlights the intimate relations between (knowledge) production and destruction, but also how enemies, operational environments and warfare emerge as relational effects of historically specific (re)configurations and their cognitive operations. Arguing that military targeting is fundamental to the ways in which enemies are understood and operational environments (re)constructed, the sociotechnical practices of targeting are shown to function as an important condition for the possibility of warfare. These martial epistemologies will be shown to continuously enact and configure the entire planet into the closed and self-referential worlds of targeting. Ultimately, the thesis highlights some of the acute ethico-political issues that accompany these contemporary (re)configurations of military targeting, through which war is (re)imagined, rationalized, justified, legitimized and waged.
Date of Award1 Apr 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAggie Hirst (Supervisor) & Claudia Aradau (Supervisor)

Cite this