Webinar by Haris A. Durrani, Princeton University, "Inventing Syncom: Public, Private, Global"


Haris A. Durrani

Princeton University


May the 24th, 2022

15:00 to 16:00 London time.


Event will be held online

TECHNIS is pleased to invite you to a free webinar. TECHNIS webinars focus on IP and innovation examining recent legal, economic, managerial, ethical and policy issues related to technological innovation. Our approach is interdisciplinary and presentations are given by experts in different fields such as economics, law, management, STS, sociology, anthropology and philosophy. Webinar presentations last for 20min and are followed by a 40min discussion.

Please join us for a webinar on Tuesday the 24th of May 2022 at 15:00 London time i.e. 16:00 Brussels time, 17:00 Athens time. The speaker is Haris A. DurraniPrinceton University. The title of the talk isInventing Syncom: Public, Private, Global"

This webinar is free and open to all. The moderator is Dr. Andreas Panagopoulos

Join Zoom Meeting:
Meeting ID: 964 7954 1729

NOTE: To participate please contact Andreas Panagopoulos at least an hour prior to the webinar.

Abstract: This article traces a partial history of Syncom, a joint project between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Hughes Aircraft Company, in the 1960s. In 1963, the project’s first successful launch, Syncom II, became the first geosynchronous communications satellite when it maneuvered into that orbit. The maneuvers were operated by a control system that spanned beyond US territory: a series of US military and civilian stations located in Maryland, New Jersey, Nigeria, and South Africa. The ingenuity of the invention led to several legal disputes surrounding the satellite’s underlying patents. It also spurred debates about the regulation of the sea, outer space, and the electromagnetic spectrum—all domains in which Syncom II, its signals, or its control system operated. 

Conventionally, Syncom’s story is a tale of the expansion of the US administrative state in the middle of the twentieth century, in which the ideology of public power drove government regulation and ownership of private innovation like Hughes’s. This story tracks broader narratives in the histories of law, science, and technology about the expansion of the administrative state during the period. As in the historiography of Syncom, these broader narratives are often domestic, focusing mainly on debates about public power and private freedoms rather than the extraterritorial scope of the administrative state. By contrast, I argue that, in Syncom’s story, the administrative state’s ascent was not only an outcome of the ideology of public power. Rather, it was also due to the alignment of public and private actors around what they regarded as a new concept of US extraterritoriality. The new concept posited technological control as a basis for imagining the United States as the first thoroughly global empire. At the same time, the emergence of this concept coincided with the construction of varying ideas of the global.