Airspace – Zones of Fidelity and Failure

Kerr, Vicki. 2015. Airspace – Zones of Fidelity and Failure. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Given our increasing reliance on air travel to function in all aspects of society, it seems imperative to expand our knowledge of airspace and the social relations that air travel enhances and makes possible. My thesis offers a critical analysis of the technical safety systems that support air travel. It finds fissures in the rationality that underlines our belief in the safety and sustainability of air travel and leaves open the question of whether our confidence in this system can be sustained only by the claim that it is inherently rational.

According to anthropologists Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star, one of the defining characteristics of technological systems that achieve the cultural status of ‘infrastructure’, is that they ‘become visible upon breakdown’. (Bowker and Star 2000, 335) Two real world events - a commercial airliner’s (Air New Zealand 901) collision with an Antarctic volcano, killing 257 people in 1979 and the closure of European airspace due to the presence of volcanic ash (eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland in 2010) expose the fragility of the infrastructural systems supporting air travel. As conditions of exceptionality, these events pose a challenge to aspects of our spatial imaginary, allowing us to understand the contradictory interdependence of trust and risk.

Working across media, using video, sound, object making and print, my practice is concerned with the ‘breaking down’ of space. My work reflects my increasing interest in the precariousness of empirically grounded monolithic systems that aspire towards comprehensive totality and stability through their own set of formal logics and structural parameters.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Airspace, Air New Zealand Flight 901, Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption, Air Traffic Control, expert systems, sublime, mobilities, air travel, infrastructure

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



30 October 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

30 Nov 2015 16:02

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 13:52


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