The interactional Accomplishment of 'Shootables': Visualisation and Decision Making Before an Apache Helicopter Attack


  • Ulrich v. Wedelstaedt



Interest in analysing (social) interaction in military and warfare settings is growing. However, few studies deal with interaction in such settings directly. Investigating a combat situation that took place in 2007 during the Iraq war, in this article I explore practices of surveillance and (war)fighting as they occur. In a sequential analysis of audio and video data from two Apache combat helicopters, I follow the crews as they jointly reach and act upon locally "conclusive" observations based on the work they do in handling visual data through and with the helicopter's reconnaissance and weapons equipment; a situation quite unlike ordinary face-to-face conversation (cf. Goodwin 1981). Through that analysis, I will seek to show how they establish a joint visuality not (only) through aligned video technology but through their interaction with and around the technological infrastructure. This involves them engaging with or "syncing" into the rhythms of the conduct they observe on the ground. Via their talk and camera work particular relevancies are marked, allowing them to move beyond an ambiguous diversity of possible interpretations of that observed conduct. In a situation characterised by the high pressure of unfolding combat, crew members reach a status of "interperceptivity", allowing them to jointly establish visual clues as a basis for further action. The crews' highly specialised and concurrent interactional conduct, with lethal consequences, points to the importance of strong (sociological) investigations of the in situ activities of military personnel in making sense of combat operations, rather than a reliance on general claims about surveillance