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Scholars have written extensively about vertical surveillance as an extension of aeriality. They have interrogated the aerial platform as a synoptic means to behold, control and wage war from above, and as a locus through which air power can be challenged from below. While this perspective highlights the complex reciprocities linking the sky and the earth, its focus remains fixated on aeriality’s (in)capacities to render terrestrial life explicit and governable. As an inhabitable space, the sky is rarely considered as a target of rational knowing and control through vertical surveillance. This article examines the views generated in sky watching, or the tactical monitoring of airspaces in air traffic management (ATM), as a rejoinder. It examines ATM’s methods of knowing the sky, its conservative logics in ‘spacing’ aircraft, and the assembling processes that geopolitically produce unequal surveillant orders. It argues that the sky, along with its visualisations, finds substance through particular technologies, calculations and expertise that repeatedly draw on the West’s visual rationalities. While a ‘benign’ form of seeing/knowing in civil contexts, sky watching in ATM summons geopolitical power not through brute force, but by discerning which visions are ‘acceptable’ for the administration of aviation safety and airborne life.

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This page is a summary of: Sky watching: Vertical surveillance in civil aviation, Environment and Planning D Society and Space, October 2016, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/0263775816670653.
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