The aerial panopticon and the ethics of archaeological remote sensing in sacred cultural spaces

Dylan S. Davis, Danielle Buffa, Tanambelo Rasolondrainy, Ebony Creswell, Chiamaka Anyanwu, Abiola Ibirogba, Clare Randolph, Abderrahim Ouarghidi, Leanne N. Phelps, François Lahiniriko, Zafy Maharesy Chrisostome, George Manahira, Kristina Douglass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Remote sensing technology has become a standard tool for archaeological prospecting. Yet the ethical guidelines associated with the use of these technologies are not well established and are even less-often discussed in published literature. With a nearly unobstructed view of large geographic spaces, aerial and spaceborne remote sensing technology creates an asymmetrical power dynamic between observers and the observed. Here, we explore the power dynamics involved with aerial and spaceborne remote sensing, using Foucault's notion of power and the panopticon. In many other areas of archaeological practice, such power imbalances have been actively confronted by collaborative approaches and community engagement, but remote sensing archaeology has been largely absent from such interventions. We discuss how aerial and spaceborne imagery is perceived by local communities in southwest Madagascar and advocate for a more collaborative approach to remote sensing archaeology that includes local stakeholders and researchers in all levels of data acquisition, analysis, and dissemination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-320
Number of pages16
JournalArchaeological Prospection
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Archaeology


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