Year

1987

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Department of Science and Technology Studies

Abstract

High technology has become prominent in political debate in Australia since the early 1980s. It has been portrayed in debate as being of national significance and vital to the future well-being of the Australian economy. The aim of this study is to examine the nature of high technology through politics by analysing the contemporary high technology debate in Australia.The framework adopted for the analysis is that of symbolic politics.

Symbolic politics highlights the importance of both instrumental political activity and expressive political activity. The former deals with what is normally thought of as political activity such as bargaining for funds and power. The latter analyses the form, function and context of political language. Symbolic forms such as political rhetoric, symbols and political myths can function to give events political meaning and cue responses from interest groups.

The argument begins with background to the emerging high technology debate in Australia during 1975-80. In this debate there was dispute over the role of technology in the economy, the role of govemment in promoting it and the precise meaning of the term high technology. It can be postulated that high technology has a political dimension. The framework of symbolic politics is developed for this analysis. It is argued that this framework is both relevant to technology because of technology's highly symbolic nature and to Australia. The framework is applied at two distinct levels. First, the high technology debate in Australia from 1981-86 is analysed as a sequence of events or 'news'. The rhetoric used in the debate provides an insight into the role of high technology in political processes. Second, the policy-making process is analysed using the symbolic forms of political myth and ritual. The policy areas of technology parks and venture capital in Australia are studied in detail.

In the high technology debate in Australia, high technology has been associated with economic growth and the future well-being of Australia. These claims are not self-evident. The symbolism associated with high technology was particularly powerful in that it provided a source of political cues for others to have faith in high technology and the benefits it might bring. This faith in turn bestowed even greater force on high technology as a symbol. The important symbolic role of high technology in political debate can be seen from the way it was manipulated by the former Department of Science and Technology and its Minister, Barry Jones, High technology rhetoric was used in political debate in an attempt to gain authority and set the political agenda.

In high technology policy-making, political myth and ritual have played an important role. These symbolic forms helped to simplify complex issues, overcome confradictions and guide policy development for high technology. The post industrial society myth and the Silicon Valley myth were important in Australia. Symbolic politics provides a revealing perspective on high technology in Australian politics and the underlying political forces which are likely to continue to shape debate in this area of national interest.

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