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Politics and Paradoxes of Transparency CRASSH Research Group

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This CRASSH Research Group, run by Ella McPherson (Sociology), Alfred Moore (CRASSH), and Olivier Driessens (Sociology), will explore the ambivalent effects of ideals and technologies of transparency. Transparency is commonly assumed to be a good thing to which regimes, organisations, and even people should aspire. Yet it is also widely recognised that transparency can be corrosive. It seems to be both a cure for and a cause of distrust. It has been associated with ways of taming bureaucracy that themselves generate more bureaucracy. It promises immediacy in personal relations yet can generate distance. Transparency for some can create obscurity for others. Transparency is a complex conceptual compound, a response to very different problems of corruption, limited knowledge, political exclusion and governance in complex environments, each of which invokes distinct and often conflicting political goods.

While it is common to talk of new technologies heralding an ‘age of transparency’, in this research group we want to focus on particular examples of how technologies accelerate, mediate, and co-produce ideals and practices of transparency in three different areas: (i) the public sphere and the production of public knowledge, (ii) political economy and the relations between individuals and commercial actors, and (iii) the reordering of personal relations. We will ask how technologies of transparency reproduce and reorder relations of power, and how opening up institutions and practices can at the same time introduce new patterns of closure and seclusion. In each of these areas we will bring a multi-disciplinary focus on concrete examples, with the aim of developing a more precise set of research questions around the politics and paradoxes of transparency.

The format will consist of a closed reading group, which will meet twice a term to discuss the texts of authors invited from across disciplines, as well as a one open lecture per term. Please register your interest below to receive further information on joining the reading group as well as on the lecture schedule.

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