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2019 | OriginalPaper | Buchkapitel

Transparency Imperatives: Results and Frontiers of Social Science Research

verfasst von: Vincent August, Fran Osrecki

Erschienen in: Der Transparenz-Imperativ

Verlag: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden

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Abstract

In Western societies, transparency has become an imperative and almost unquestionable norm. In this opening chapter, we provide an overview of social scientific debates about transparency. First, we trace the idea of transparency historically in order to contextualize past and present transparency imperatives. We start with the utilitarian tradition initiated by Jeremy Bentham and argue that transparency employs a mechanism of surveillance, formalization, and standardization that is supposed to transform insecurities into security and efficiency. This modernist legacy reaches into contemporary visions of transparency, for instance in institutional economics, new public management, or in current debates on big data. In a second step, we discuss the unintended consequences of these recent transparency imperatives. Based on a literature review, we show that transparency often does not achieve its self-proclaimed goals, as its rationale and practices produce unintended structural effects, such as organizational inefficiency, massive bureaucratization, and even intransparency. Building on these results, we propose a comparative approach for future social scientific research on transparency, outlining new frontiers and topics. We will refer to the articles collected in this book throughout the chapter and close with some remarks on the general structure of this anthology that combines contributions from sociology, political science, and anthropology and highlights the variety and ubiquity of transparency imperatives.
Fußnoten
1
The first two sub-sections build on arguments already presented in August 2018b, 2019a, but they extend the literature review and add some new aspects, especially regarding big data and organizational strategies for coping with transparency imperatives.
 
2
Transparency research offers two main approaches to distinguish transparency from other social phenomena, nominal definitions and historico-critical reconstructions. Nominal definitions define transparency in advance in order to operationalize the concept and apply it to a given data set. Transparency research usually defines transparency as “access to information” and distinguishes it from “publicity”, which includes the understanding and discussion of information (e.g. Naurin 2006). Historico-critical approaches, on the other hand, draw on empirical material to reconstruct what transparency means ‘in the field’, including the actor’s rationales for transparency norms and practices as well as the circumstances of use, its tacit assumption, and unintended consequences (e.g. Alber 2018; August 2018b). While both approaches can contextualize transparency demands in their own ways, historico-critical approaches also criticize nominal approaches that construct a natural link between transparency and democracy. Yet, researchers may also apply the reconstructions of historico-critical approaches as a nominal heuristic to new material.
 
3
Many historians and social scientists recently argued that the 1970s brought significant changes in many areas of Western societies, ranging from industrial structure, management principles, welfare and party politics to cultural values and cleavages. The abundant literature includes very specific studies, for instance on youth unemployment or media representations, as well as very general thesis that diagnose a structural change of modernity. See, amongst others, Black et al. (2013); Boltanski and Chiapello (2005); Bösch (2019); Chabal (2015); Doering-Manteuffel and Raphael (2008); Leendertz and Meteling (2016); Reckwitz (2017); Wirsching (2011).
 
4
Although this argument for transparency still prevails, some economists and rational choice researchers have meanwhile pointed to limits of transparency, arguing, for instance, for the necessity of (partly) secluding negotiations. See Naurin (2006), Prat (2005).
 
5
The Panopticon papers presented a draft for a prison, but they explicitly entertained the idea that transparency is a suitable architectural and management principle for a wide range of organizations, such as schools and hospitals. However, Bentham also elaborated that for different purposes different degrees and arrangements of transparency would be in order. Another curiosity: At first, transparency did only apply to physical transparency, for instance the architecture of the building; it is only in a second step that Bentham transformed the material term into a management metaphor and melted it with a more general term of publicity. Publicity and transparency are, thus, two different things.
 
6
One of the most peculiar and revealing passages from Bentham’s writings is that he wanted every member of parliament to swear an oath on keeping his discourse “pure”: “my endeavours shall be constantly directed to the giving to them the greatest degree of transparency, and thence of simplicity, possible. […] to keep my own discourse, and, as far as depends upon myself, the discourse of others, as pure as may be from the taint of fallacy: of fallacy in every shape” (Bentham 1962b, p. 124).
 
7
One example is Michel Foucault. While he argued against transparency, stressing its coercive dimension (Foucault 1975), he advocated open information and innovation, demanding to multiply the “channels of communication” (Foucault 1997, pp. 325 f.). The main difference is that transparency comes with a moral distinction of good and bad information that is rejected by Foucault, who praised unrestricted experimentation.
 
8
To give one example, turn back to the TTIP negotiations mentioned at the beginning. In this case, the European Union was reluctant to publish documents that involve the private interests of United States citizens. This protection of private information, however, was at odds with the transparency demands of European NGOs.
 
9
On the other hand, Luhmann also pointed to three main problems of trust. First, the consequences of misplaced trust can be enormous. However, they cannot be estimated in advance as trust is a powerful tool precisely because it chooses to act despite insufficient information. Second, the more complex a social system, the more trust is needed as it becomes impossible to control each and every action. At the same time, the more trust is given, the more often it will be disappointed (simply because complexity implies more opportunities for failure). Thirdly, trust is easier transformed into distrust than distrust is transformed into trust.
 
10
Bentham’s account is remarkable in this respect. While he saw that “as the mass increases, the transparency diminishes” Bentham (1962d, p. 28), he did not register a problem as he relied on two moments. On the one hand, he stressed the purifying power of transparency practices, on the other hand, he argued that transparency would enable the relevant actors, that is the educated middle classes that have access to the universal interest.
 
11
Democratic theory, in particular, has argued that not only information overload but also standardizing the public discourse leads to exclusion of lower classes, marginalized actors (such as women), and deviant cultural practices of voicing opinions (Fraser 1990; Young 1990).
 
12
The concepts of “social field” (Bourdieu) and “function system” (Luhmann), of course, differ to some extent. However, for the purpose of this article it suffices to say that they offer theoretical equivalents in addressing the largest ‘components’ of modern society. For a comparison of the concepts, see Nassehi and Nollmann (2004).
 
13
A few articles already address this perspective, e.g. Cucciniello et al. (2013).
 
14
Jean Starobinsky (1997) famously followed this notion of transparency in Rousseau’s autobiographical writings. Yet, his interpretation is also misleading in that he used the uncovered notion of transparency from the later writings to interpret all of Rousseau’s earlier works. Rousseau’s social and political works, however, do not comply with an ideal of transparency. Rather, they explicitly denied it and defended the necessity of ceremony and orchestration (see Marks 2001; Rzepka 2013, pp. 38–46).
 
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Metadaten
Titel
Transparency Imperatives: Results and Frontiers of Social Science Research
verfasst von
Vincent August
Fran Osrecki
Copyright-Jahr
2019
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-22294-9_1

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