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Keeping It Professional: Language and Bureaucracy in the Cold War
How do states communicate internally about foreign policy and how does this change over time? Applying concepts from linguistics to a novel corpus of all President’s Daily Briefs from 1961 to 1977, we analyze change over time in the variety of terms used in national security writing (“lexical diversity”). We find a consistently declining level of lexical diversity across presidential administrations and despite variation in exogenous changes in foreign affairs. We argue that this increasingly homogenized language reflects a larger process of bureaucratization in American national security institutions in the 1960s and 1970s. We build on the concept of “organizational sensemaking” and argue that bureaucratization directly and indirectly compresses the terminological range used by individual bureaucrats and homogenizes the language of its outputs. One key payoff is shedding light on what is “lost in translation” when bureaucratic experts communicate with leaders and the foreign policy mistakes and misperceptions that may follow. Our research contributes to work on bureaucracy and perceptions in IR by identifying a subtle shift in the spectrum of terms with which the state interprets the world – a finding that is only tractable by combining computational and linguistic techniques with a large corpus of formerly classified intelligence materials.

Mar 1, 2022 01:00 PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)

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