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Cultural History of Transparency

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Clare Birchall (King’s College London) and Daniel Jütte (NYU/ Cambridge)

Abstract of Clare Birchall: This short book attempts to question modes of sharing and watching to rethink political subjectivity beyond that which is enabled and enforced by the current data regime. It identifies and examines a “shareveillant” subjectivity: a form configured by the sharing and watching that subjects have to withstand and enact in the contemporary data assemblage. Looking at government open and closed data as case studies, this book demonstrates how “shareveillance” produces an anti-political role for the public. In describing shareveillance as, after Jacques Rancière, a distribution of the (digital) sensible, this article posits a politico-ethical injunction to cut into the share and flow of data in order to arrange a more enabling assemblage of data and its affects. In order to interrupt shareveillance, this book borrows a concept from Édouard Glissant and his concern with raced otherness to imagine what a “right to opacity” might mean in the digital context. To assert this right is not to endorse the individual subject in her sovereignty and solitude, but rather to imagine a collective political subjectivity and relationality according to the important question of what it means to “share well” beyond the veillant expectations of the state. Abstract of Daniel Juette: Using the pre-circulated opening chapter of my book The Age of Secrecy: Jews, Christians, and the Economy of Secrets (1400–1800) as a starting point, I will make a few, brief remarks about my work (as a historian) on the subject of secrecy and openness. I argue that there was a powerful notion of ‘good’ secrecy in the early modern period and I use the case of Jewish-Christian relations to show what this meant in practice and which opportunities arose from this “economy of secrets.” My current project deals with the history of transparency, but comes from a rather different perspective: in this project, I am interested in the material experience of transparency, and I pay particular attention to the history and changing meanings of architectural glass. If there is time, I hope to say a few words about this new project as well.

This talk is part of the Politics and Paradoxes of Transparency CRASSH Research Group series.

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