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Palgrave Macmillan

Aerial Play

Drone Medium, Mobility, Communication, and Culture

  • Book
  • © 2021


  • Offers a unique interdisciplinary exploration of the spatial, mobile, visual, and relational dimensions of aerial play by drones.
  • Focuses on consumer drone use to encourage a fresh understanding of contemporary and emerging playful human-technology interactions and new discussions in critical media studies, mobilities research, and science and technology studies.
  • Timely investigation of value to academics, regulators and the general public, particularly as drones continue to proliferate in civilian settings, requiring new forms of imagining and conceiving social practices

Part of the book series: Geographies of Media (GOM)

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About this book

Winner of the prestigious Marshall McLuhan Award for Outstanding Book in the Field of Media Ecology 2024.


This book explores recreational uses of consumer drones from the lenses of media ecology, mobile communication, mobilities research, and science and technology studies. In this provocative ethnography, Julia M. Hildebrand discusses camera drones as mobile media for meaningful play. She thus widens perspectives onto the flying camera as foremost unmanned aircraft, spying tool, or dangerous toy towards a more comprehensive understanding of its potentials.


How should we situate drone practices in recreational spaces? What ways of seeing, moving, and being do hobby drones open up? Across chapters about drone geography, communication, mobility, visuality, and human-machine relations, Aerial Play introduces novel frameworks for drone affordances, such as communication on the fly, disembodied mobilities, auratic vertical play, and drone-mindedness.


In the mobile companionship with her own drone, Hildebrand contributes an innovative “auto-technographic” method for the self-reflective study of media and mobility. Ultimately, her grounded and aerial fieldwork illuminates new technological, mobile, visual, and social relations in everyday spaces.

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Table of contents (8 chapters)


“Julia M. Hildebrand’s understanding of hobby drones as a ‘mobile medium’ offers novel insights into drone imaginaries and practices. With her rich theoretical background and innovative empirical research, her book will certainly be a reference in drone-related scholarship and interactions between humans and emerging technologies.” (Chantal Lavallée, Assistant Professor at Royal Military College Saint-Jean, Canada) 
“In a short amount of time, drones have become a ubiquitous technology. And while scholarly attention has been focused on commercial and military contexts, the recreational drone has been relatively overlooked. That is, until Aerial Play: Drone Medium, Mobility, Communication and Culture. Aerial Play addresses some of the complex debates around quotidian surveillance and mundane mobilities and how these practices recalibrate how we understand media ecology, mobile communication, mobilities research, and science and technology studies. Traversing themes such as drone geography, communication, mobility and new visualities, Aerial Play explores how drones can help us reinvent our digital methods. Hildebrand’s playful and yet robust approach encourages us to consider the drone as not just part of mobile methods for ‘auto-technographic’ self-reflection but also how they invite us to rethink the paradigm between media and mobility.” (Larissa Hjorth, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Design & Creative Practice Research Platform, RMIT University, Australia)
“In Aerial Play, Julia Hildebrand provides a serious, scholarly, and accessible study of a highly significant new medium that is altering the world that we live in, and the way that we view ourselves. Drones are not simply toys, they are our future, and this book offers us essential aid in understanding this important aspect of our evolving media environment. Drawing on the powerful tools made available via the media ecology intellectual tradition, combined with a multidisciplinary methodology, Hildebrand delivers an analysis that is both rigorous and readable, and above all insightful and provocative. Read it, and you will never look up at the sky in the same way again!” (Lance Strate, Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University, New York)
Aerial Play is a most welcome guide to an emerging phenomenon. Drones are increasingly showing their presence, and Dr. Hildebrand offers no-nonsense and straightforward insights into one of the growing niches of drone practices: flying for fun! Written at the crossroads of Mobilities and Media studies, Aerial Play is a must-read for students, researchers within media, Mobilities, geography, and technology studies. Recreational drone flyers may indeed also find it useful.” (Ole B. Jensen, Aalborg University, Denmark)
“With a focus on its recreational and hobby use, Aerial Play widens our understanding of drones as a socio-technical system with a growing presence in society. This is a welcomed contribution not only to studies on drones, but also to our knowledge on human-machine interactions.” (Bruno Oliveira Martins, Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, USA

    Julia M. Hildebrand

About the author

Julia M. Hildebrand is Assistant Professor of Communication at Eckerd College. For her work on media, mobility, and drones, she has won multiple awards including the Harold A. Innis Award in the Field of Media Ecology.

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Aerial Play

  • Book Subtitle: Drone Medium, Mobility, Communication, and Culture

  • Authors: Julia M. Hildebrand

  • Series Title: Geographies of Media

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Singapore

  • eBook Packages: Social Sciences, Social Sciences (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2021

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-981-16-2194-9Published: 17 July 2021

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-981-16-2197-0Published: 18 July 2022

  • eBook ISBN: 978-981-16-2195-6Published: 16 July 2021

  • Series ISSN: 3005-012X

  • Series E-ISSN: 3005-0138

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XXI, 207

  • Number of Illustrations: 2 b/w illustrations, 15 illustrations in colour

  • Topics: Human Geography, Media and Communication, Sociology, general

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