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3 October 2023, 15:30 - 17:00 CEST / 9:30 - 11:00 EDT

The Politics of Progress: How Fields Process Change and Determine Its Meaning


Cameron McAlpine

Ivey Business School

Societies are facing unprecedented challenges at a time when many citizens have lost faith in the institutions that would be integral to meeting those challenges. Something needs to change. But what? The answer to that question lies in reconciling what actors, in particular organizational actors, want to change to pursue their own interests with what it would mean to put those changes into practice on an institutional scale. My project is a microhistory of the American telecommunication field engaging in that very process of balance individual objectives with institutional meaning making. Between the summers of 2006 and 2007, the Federal Communications Commission undertook a process to set rules for the auction and utilization of a swath on very valuable radio frequency spectrum. Based on debates that occurred among over 100 organizations I examine the politics of progress. We tend to think of politics as a fight over whose preferences are served: to the victor goes the spoils. My data shows that politics is also an essential process through which the meanings of potential changes are constructed. Implications for institutional stewardship of progress are discussed.

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