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Global Politics and Empty Signifiers: The Political Construction of High-Technology

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Document pages: 25 pages

Abstract: This article argues for the usefulness of the concept of the empty signifier for the analysis of international policy processes. First, it emphasizes the importance of considering references to general public interest in global politics and the way such interest is constructed. Second, it opens up the possibility of examining political strategies in the process of developing policy programs. Third, it provides a foil for scrutinizing the interplay between universal and particular interests. Finally, it offers a framework for analysis that can be used to explain the process by which a term comes to both identify and propel a whole policy field or development. In an examination of U.S. technology policies during the 1990s until mid 2000s, the article investigates the political process leading to the development of the term nanotechnology. In so doing, it argues that nanotechnology is not a particular technology or a specific field of research, but rather a broader political project encompassing a wide array of technological areas that are unified in name only. It is the term nanotechnology that brings them together under one cover, giving them a common identification.

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