Abstract: Translating the Cold War Project to the Corporation: Motorola, Satellite Telephony, and the Global 1990s

Martin Collins


The U.S. Cold War state gave prominence to and codified, politically and professionally, the "project": a mode of organizationmode of organization directed at solving specific technical problems, requiring multi-institution inputs, geographically dispersed. An adjunct to existing bureaucracies (government, corporate, academic), the project became an object of intensive formalization and a widely shared asset of the national security establishment. As a tool for knitting together private and public entities, it was a defining and constitutive element of Cold War political economy. This paper looks at the translation of the Cold War project to a new regime of culture and production: the post-1980s world of markets and globalization. In this period, Motorola undertook, with private (not state) funding, the development of a large-scale technology—a completely global cellular telephone system, one that relied not on ground-based towers, but on a space-based constellation of satellites. In pursuing this goal, Motorola adapted the modality of the project to serve the political and economic demands of profit and globalized corporate action. As with the state in the Cold War, Motorola's approach was not simply to accomplish the production of a technical system and operational business but to help constitute the political and policy framework for global markets.