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Open Networks and the Open Door: American Foreign Policy and the Narration of the Internet


  •  A previous version of this article was presented to the British International Studies Association US Foreign Policy Working Group Conference, University of East Anglia, September 17 2009. I thank the participants for their helpful comments on this paper. I also thank Lisa Denney, Michael Foley, James Vaughan, Michael C. Williams, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments in the development of these arguments.


This article explains the US foreign policy discourse surrounding human rights, democracy and the Internet as the pursuit of “technological closure” for the network. US policymakers draw upon international norms and values to construct a symbolically powerful argument regarding the valid material composition of the Internet. Through these arguments, the US creates a narrative that casts its vision for the Internet as moral, just and progressive. In contrast, opponents of the American vision of the Internet are cast as backward states impeding the flow of history. In the process, the contested nature of the technology and its contingent nature are sidelined, naturalizing and reifying its historically and culturally specific evolution, to the benefit of American foreign policy aims. I will outline the politics of identity construction, and the meaning attached to the technological structure of the Internet, as central to the ongoing contestation over its form. Finally, I will note how the narrative created by US foreign policymakers legitimizes their material practice of supporting anticensorship technologies.

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