Sunlight in cyberspace? On transparency as a form of ordering

European Journal of Social Theory 18 (2):168-184 (2015)


While we witness a growing belief in transparency as an ideal solution to a wide range of societal problems, we know less about the practical workings of transparency as it guides conduct in organizational and regulatory settings. This article argues that transparency efforts involve much more than the provision of information and other forms of ‘sunlight’, and are rather a matter of managing visibilities than providing insight and clarity. Building on actor-network theory and Foucauldian governmentality studies, it calls for careful attention to the ways in which transparency ideals are translated into more situated practices and become associated with specific organizational and regulatory concerns. The article conceptualizes transparency as a force that shapes conduct in organizational and socio-political domains. In the second section, this conceptualization of transparency as a form of ‘ordering’ is substantiated further by using illustrations of the effects of transparency efforts in the internet domain.

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