Death machines

The ethics of violent technologies

By Elke Schwarz

Death machines


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-1484-6
  • Pages: 240
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £23.50
  • Published Date: December 2019
  • BIC Category: HISTORY / Military / General, TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING / Military Science, HISTORY / Military / Biological & Chemical Warfare, TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING / General, Society & social sciences / Comparative politics, Bio-Ethics, Politics, Society & social sciences / Warfare & defence, Technology: General Issues, International relations, PHILOSOPHY / Ethics & Moral Philosophy, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Comparative Politics, Society & social sciences / International relations, Ethics & Moral Philosophy


As innovations in military technologies race toward ever-greater levels of automation and autonomy, debates over the ethics of violent technologies tread water. Death Machines reframes these debates, arguing that the way we conceive of the ethics of contemporary warfare is itself imbued with a set of bio-technological rationalities that work as limits. The task for critical thought must therefore be to unpack, engage, and challenge these limits. Drawing on the work of Hannah Arendt, the book offers a close reading of the technology-biopolitics-complex that informs and produces contemporary subjectivities, highlighting the perilous implications this has for how we think about the ethics of political violence, both now and in the future.


'Schwarz pulls no punches in her epic journey through the technologies of violence. This is a brilliantly written and well-crafted work that will change the way you think about armed conflict.'
Noel Sharkey, Emeritus Professor of AI and Robotics, University of Sheffield and Chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control

'Death Machines brings some much-needed philosophical depth to the debate on armed drones. Drawing on authors such as Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault, Elke Schwarz shows how our dependence on technology limits our room for action. Schwarz rightly questions the idea that ethics is a body of fixed rules and precepts already out there, and investigates how the use of armed drones shapes our moral thinking.'
Peter Olsthoorn, Associate Professor Military Leadership and Ethics, Netherlands Defence Academy

'In this remarkable new book, Elke Schwarz investigates the terms of the debate concerning lethal autonomous weapons, providing us with an illuminating critique of the biopolitical and technological rationalities that organise, inform, and justify the existing arguments both for and against killer robots. The best defence is a killer critique.'
David J. Gunkel, Distinguished Teaching Professor, Northern Illinois University

'Death Machines combines a thoughtful account of Hannah Arendt as a guide to biopolitics and violence with a critique of algorithmic approaches to ethics, and an up-to-the-moment reading of the contemporary state of the art with respect to AI, Drones and Autonomous Weapons Systems. Schwarz's account is compelling -a fascinating, must-read book.'
C J Brown, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science

'Essential reading for those working with or on the issue of drones, autonomy and AI to engage with the ever-increasing use of violent technologies, regarding both the physical death they inflict and the ethical death in the wake of their use.'
Joanna Frew, Drone Wars UK

'Schwarz's book should be essential reading for scholars across the fields of (critical) war studies, political theory and political philosophy. Furthermore, the extensive discussion of Arendt's biopolitics will appeal to Arendtian scholars and scholars of biopolitics more widely.'
International Affairs


Introduction: The conditioned human
1. Biopolitics and the technological subject
2. Biopolitical technologies in Arendt and Foucault
3. Anti-political (post)modernity
4. Procedural violence
5. Ethics as technics
6. All hail our robot overlords
7. Prescription drones
Conclusion: For an ethics beyond technics


Elke Schwarz is Lecturer in Political Theory at Queen Mary University of London

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