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No 1059:
Transparency: From Enlightenment to Neoliberalism or When a Norm of Liberation Becomes a Tool of Governing

Afshin Mehrpouya () and Marie-Laure Djelic ()

Abstract: Transparency is one of the fundamental norms that structure our contemporary individual, organizational and social lives. Its influence can be felt at all levels, and it provides, in particular, the normative foundation for the current explosion of accounting, audit and other visibility-based accountability structures. The emergence and rapid expansion of international organizations – that have played a central role in structuring transnational governance around a plethora of standards and audits – has been fundamental to the theorization and global diffusion of accountability regimes. In this paper, the authors undertake a conceptual genealogy of the powerful notion of transparency. Starting with its Enlightenment roots, they explore the multiple competing and conflicting mobilizations of the notion of transparency through time to liberate, to deliberate, to legitimize, to control, to structure or to govern. They then trace the transposition of these various historical trajectories into the transnational space. Beginning with the League of Nations, the authors follow the various mutations of transnational transparency up to its contemporary and profound neoliberal transformation. They show how transnational transparency has shifted from being a norm of emancipatory accountability, “exposing the few to the many”, to one of governing by “exposing the many to the few”.

Keywords: transparency; transnational governance; accountability; genealogy; enlightenment; visibility; (follow links to similar papers)

65 pages, September 1, 2014

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