Jacob Ward, "Visions of a Digital Nation: Market and Monopoly in British Telecommunications" (MIT Press, 2024)

The MIT Press Podcast

23-02-2024 • 51 min

In Visions of a Digital Nation: Market and Monopoly in British Telecommunications (MIT Press, 2024), Jacob Ward explains why the privatization of British Telecom signaled a pivotal moment in the rise of neoliberalism, and how it was shaped by the longer development and digitalization of Britain’s telecommunications infrastructure.  When Margaret Thatcher sold British Telecom for £3.6 billion in 1984, it became not only, at the time, the largest stock flotation in history, but also a watershed moment in the rise of neoliberalism and deregulation. In Visions of a Digital Nation, Ward offers an incisive interdisciplinary perspective on how technology prefigured this pivot. Giving due consideration to the politicians, engineers, and managers who paved the way for this historic moment, Ward illustrates how the decision validated the privatization of public utilities and tied digital technology to free market rationales. In this examination of the national and, at times, global history of technology, Ward’s approach is sweeping. Utilizing infrastructure studies, environmental history, and urban and local history, Ward explores Britain’s nationalist and welfarist plans for a digital information utility and shows how these projects contested and adapted to the “market turn” under Margaret Thatcher. Ultimately, Visions of a Digital Nation compellingly argues that politicians did not impose neoliberalism top-down, but that technology, engineers, and managers shaped these politics from the bottom up. Jacob Ward is Assistant Professor in the History Department and Science, Technology and Society Studies Research Program at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Maastricht University. He is coeditor of Histories of Technology, the Environment and Modern Britain. Filippo De Chirico is a PhD student in History and Politics of Energy at Roma Tre University (Italy).