Aerial visibilities: towards a visual sociology of the sky Introduction to the special issue

Bratchford, Gary and Zuev, Dennis (2021) Aerial visibilities: towards a visual sociology of the sky Introduction to the special issue. Visual Studies, 35 (5). pp. 402-416. ISSN 1472-586X

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The aim of this special issue is to gather diverse perspectives that help us examine various facets of the dyad of verticality and visibility. Following Wrigley and Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (2016), we intend to bring sky and air into the view of visual sociology and argue that there is more to the sky than phenomenological and geopolitical dimensions (Wrigley 2018). The articles within this issue emphasise the need to rethink the aerial in terms of complex relations between humans, technological artefacts, vertical superstructures, and non-human others to examine the ways they can unsettle notions of aerial biopolitics. In doing so, this collection foregrounds the visual to ask to what end the image of – or efforts to create images through – vertical registers shape our understanding of our increasingly vertical world and the communities and users it engages or impacts upon.

Our inquiry owes much to the work of those from other disciplines and practices outside the field of sociology which we acknowledge throughout this introduction. Across a host of disciplines and approaches, verticality, its politics and associated in/visibilities – including, but not limited to, work concerning the role of the gaze and targeting, vertical consumption and atmospheric analysis – have been examined by cultural and urban geographers, urbanists, urban sociologists and philosophers alike. Yet rarely has the image of, or from sites and spaces of verticality been used as a prism through which volumetric space can be explored, sociologically. In this editorial and the articles that follow, we discuss how visual sociology can contribute to the growing scholarship on verticality, and ask how visual sociology can get the following questions off the ground:

How can we explore aerial space visually and sociologically?

How can we examine the sky as a visual medium?

What constitutes a visual sociology of the sky?

Drawing specifically on Davide Deriu’s work on emotions, vertigo and verticality (2016, 2018) and our previous work on the air as contested space (Zuev and Bratchford 2021), we supplement these questions with more questions on the visuality of aerial experiences:

How can we visualize “states of suspension”?

How can we visualize the material and spatial properties of verticality?

What does the aerial view tell us about visibility as a sociological category?

What do vertical “superstructures” represent and how can these representations be compared across cultures?

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