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Satellite communications: the political determination of technological development, 1961-1975

Wasserman, Edward Jay (1979) Satellite communications: the political determination of technological development, 1961-1975. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The thesis sets forth a model relating political contention to technological development. The selective realisation of a technical potentiality is shown to have been determined by conflict and negotiation among shifting alliances of state and private-industrial entities, each attempting to impose its requirements upon an emergent technology and thereby to dictate the precise form and pace of technical development. The 'course of communications satellite development is examined during the technology's formative period from 1961 to 1975--as the product of struggles over technological control. Negotiation centered upon control, and contending modes of technical development were promoted and opposed on the basis of their perceived consequences upon the distribution of effective control over the technology. The initial mode of satellite development lasted from 1961 to 1971 and is characterised as pre-emptive underdevelopment; urgency and haste were combined with tight constraints on the qualitative breadth allowed to technological articulation. Pre-emptive underdevelopment derived from an uneasy political accommodation struck among constituencies dominant during this phases the U.S. government, American communications carrier industry and a Western European intergovernmental bloc. The reigning compromise was directed toward expediting satellite development sufficiently to forestall rival deployments without endangering existing and anticipated interests in both satellite and competitive technologies. Technical development beneath a minimum level risked undermining the regime of control by leaving open the possibility of rival satellite systems; but development beyond a maximum level would have harmed the outstanding industrial and political interests in whose defence control was sought, while subverting the control regime by widening the legitimate scope for multinational participation in authority over the technology. Pre-emptive underdevelopment, it is argued, was succeeded largely by the products of its own success in meeting the policy requirements of initially dominant entities and in thus reducing the continued importance of satellite technology as a political arena and instrumentality. Restraints upon development could therefore, in the post-1971 period, be relaxed, while the growing demand for a wider array of satellite services encouraged emergence of a more intensive mode of technological development under the auspices of a de-cartelised, quasi-federal and multinational political regime.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 1979 Edward Jay Wasserman
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HE Transportation and Communications
J Political Science > JK Political institutions (United States)
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
Supervisor: Nossiter, Thomas Johnson

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