Drones in Military Warfare: The Moral and Emotional Implications of an Emerging Technology

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While there has been increasing interest in the design, adoption, and workplace-related issues pertaining to emerging technologies, the emotional and moral challenges for people interacting with them have received relatively less attention. In this paper, we study how emerging technologies trigger mixed feelings by disrupting the meaning and moral legitimacy of their work. We examine how drones—an emerging technology in warfare used to remotely observe and attack targets from offsite command centers—have changed the nature of the work of military personnel. To understand this change and its effects, we draw on field observations, interviews, internal documents, and 43 personal diaries from current and former military personnel working for the U.S. Air Force’s “drone program.” We explain how actors grapple with emotional ambivalence—the simultaneous pull of oppositional positive and negative emotions—but suppress the display of their emotions in an organization with strong social controls. We develop a model that explains how new technology changes the nature of work and triggers emotional ambivalence by unsettling its core meaning and moral legitimacy, and how actors deploy different strategies to uphold extant meaning in their work, add meaning to their work, or quit the organization altogether. We advance theory on emergent technologies by illuminating their emotional and moral implications for the nature of work.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Eighty-First Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
EditorsSonia Taneja
Number of pages5
Place of PublicationBriarcliff Manor
PublisherAcademy of Management
Publication date2021
Article number235
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2021: Bringing the Manager Back in Management - Online, Virtual, Online
Duration: 29 Jul 20214 Aug 2021
Conference number: 81


ConferenceThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2021
CityVirtual, Online
Internet address
SeriesAcademy of Management Proceedings


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