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Populist Transparency

The Documentation of Reality in Rural Paraguay

Kregg Hetherington

This article is an ethnographic account of the politics of transparency in Paraguay that focuses on the circulation of a particular binder full of photocopies from the land registry during Paraguay’s embattled “transition to democracy.” The concept of transparency posits a representational relationship between documents and reality – i.e. governments are transparent to the extent that they generate faithful and accessible documentary representations of their activities. The article suggests that the difficulty of creating a critical analysis of transparency has less to do with representations than with contention over what counts as reality. The Paraguayan case suggests that we might benefit from rethinking transparency through the logic of populism, in which reality is itself created in the relationship between leaders and their followers.

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“Recognize the Spies”

Transparency and Political Power in Uzbek Cyberspace

Sarah Kendzior

This article uses the example of Uzbekistan's national security services to consider how the psychic influence of a police state reveals itself online. What happens when the 'spectral double' of the police becomes a point of focus in a medium known for its transparency? I argue that although the Internet gives citizens the capability to organize and interact, it does not relieve their fears and suspicions; instead, it often intensifies them. Despite the 'transparency' that the Internet affords—and sometimes because of it—there are qualities bound up in the architecture of this medium that give rise to paranoia. Using examples from Uzbek online political discourse, I show how the Internet has fueled suspicion and fears about the state security services despite attempts to demystify and assuage them.

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Dan Hough

This article utilizes a neoinstitutionalist framework to argue that while Germany’s anticorruption infrastructure remains strong, resilient pathdependent tendencies often make it difficult to reform. The article analyzes three specific areas: the state’s attitude to regulating German business, meeting international anticorruption commitments, and doing justice to the rising transparency agenda. High-profile examples of corruption in multinational businesses prompted significant changes to these companies’ compliance regimes. This critical juncture, however, did not prompt reform across much of the Mittelstand. Germany’s preparedness to fulfill international commitments, meanwhile, has been strongly dependent on correspondence with the internal logic of German politics and law. Where this was not so and in the absence of any critical junctures, change has been infrequent. Finally, the rise of an international transparency agenda has not fit with the logics of German public life, and change has been minimal. Thus, despite a strong anticorruption record, German elites would benefit from proactively thinking about where corruption lurks and what could be done.

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Malcolm Cohen

While there exist many instances in the Tanakh of characters who are 'fraught with background' and whose internal workings are hidden, Saul could not be described as one of them. It is not just that his thoughts and feelings become public knowledge in the sense that the reader understands them clearly. In addition his internal life seems to be at the mercy of others, beyond his control. Such is his transparency that psychologists have found it easy to analyse his turmoil. Furthermore, there are literary devices that serve to highlight his openness and exposure compared to the opaqueness of other characters, in particular David.

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The Shadows of Knowability

Reading between Opaque Narrative and Transparent Text

Younes Saramifar

The torch of ember and its puzzling knowability are my exemplars, serving to open the binary of opacity and transparency in narrativity. I highlight inadequacies in the binary of opacity and transparency by examining the works of Peter Lamarque and Clare Birchall on matters of narrative and secrecy. I will try to see how one can think about opacity/transparency through the lenses of speculative realism and object-oriented philosophy. I do so by drawing examples from memories of the Iran-Iraq war (1980–1989) and explaining how the language of remembering becomes the realm of a tension between presence and absentia, between the unsaid within the said. I explore how memory-as-narrative and narrative-as-memory sustain the potentiality that eludes Orwellian newspeak.

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The correct secret

Discretion and hypertransparency in Chinese biosecurity

Katherine A. Mason

In this article I argue that the global biosecurity project that arose out of the events of the SARS epidemic of 2003 created a new balance of secrecy and transparency within the public health arm of the Chinese state. In an effort to meet national and international demands for greater transparency in support of a “common good,” local public health officials engaged in what I call hypertransparency. This hypertransparency took two forms: the real-time online sharing of disease incidence data within the public health bureaucracy, and the over-performance of disease fighting strategies in front of a wider local and global public. Because local Chinese officials interpreted the “common good” differently from their international partners, neither of these efforts succeeded in erasing the crucial role that local officials continued to play in determining what should and should not be shared, and with whom. Secrecy continued to be an important component of China’s securitization efforts, with hypertransparency ultimately concealing more than it revealed.

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The problem with “transparency”

Moral contests and ethical possibilities in mining impact reporting

Sally Babidge

Subterranean waters in the mineral-rich and water-poor Atacama desert, northern Chile, are subject to contest between resource-extracting companies and mostly indigenous residents. In complying with global Corporate Social Responsibility standards and local agreements, and in an effort to reduce opposition from indigenous groups, some mining companies have begun to undertake “transparency” reporting regarding the impact of their subterranean water extraction activities. These engagements present a moral interface between two streams of global discourse: the CSR principle of “transparency” on impacts of water extraction and the rights of indigenous peoples to “native waters.” An ethnographic study of a set of such engagements shows indigenous community rejection of the truths that transparency purports to reveal. However, the apparent intractability of moral contest in such globally comparative and locally specific contexts in terms of distrust of the mining companies is tempered by a proposition for the ethics of engagement.

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Interiority and government of the child

Transparency, risk, and good governance in Indonesia

Jan Newberry

Early childhood education and care programs in Indonesia developed rapidly in the aftermath of the 2006 earthquake centered south of Yogyakarta. The newly empowered self-directed learner at the center of these programs seemed to follow from the emergence of another child in this devastated landscape: the traumatized child in need of healing. The appearance of these images of childhood along with Indonesia’s neoliberal democratization reiterates the long-standing relationship between childhood and rule. Grounded in long-term ethnographic work in the Yogyakarta area, this article traces a conceptual link between the shift to transparent and accountable good governance in post-Suharto Indonesia and the desire to produce a newly transparent childhood ready for intervention. The generative power of history, trauma, and the interior self is contrasted with risk management, nongovernmental governance, and the exteriorization of self and state to challenge the unquestioned good of empowerment and transparency.

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Changing Colors of Money

Tips, Commissions, and Ritual in Christian Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Jackie Feldman

The movement of money in Christian pilgrimage is a profound mirror of cultural classifications. By examining tips, commissions, and souvenir purchases in Holy Land pilgrimages, I show how the transfer of monies activates a series of multiple, complex relationships between Jewish guides, Palestinian drivers, and Christian pilgrims. I identify the 'colors'—or moral values—of salaries, tips, and commissions that change hands as 'white', 'black', or 'gray' monies and correlate these colors with particular discourses and degrees of transparency. I then illustrate how prayer, rituals, and the citation of scripture may 'bleach' these monies, transforming tips into 'love offerings' and souvenir purchases into aids to spiritual development or charity to local communities, while fostering relationships and conveying messages across religious and cultural lines. Far from being a universal 'acid' that taints human relationships, pilgrimage monies demonstrate how, through the exchange of goods, people are able to create and maintain spiritual values.

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Where Is the Public Sphere?

Political Communications and the Morality of Disclosure in Rural Rajasthan

Anastasia Piliavsky

The public sphere has been centre stage in celebrations of India's political triumphs. Leading commentators tell us that the astonishing post-independence surge of democracy has been contingent on the rise of a new kind of sociopolitical formation: the public sphere. This article takes a closer look at the popular deliberative terrain in North India to question this claim. Drawing on research conducted in a provincial town in the North Indian state of Rajasthan, we see that where metropolitan political theorists see 'transparency' as promoting discursive and political possibilities, Rajasthani villagers see an exposure which prevents expression, communication and the making of political choices. In their view, it is secrecy and social seclusion that enable political interactions and elicit political judgments. 'The public sphere' is an unfit heuristic for locating popular politics within (and beyond) Rajasthan, where it obscures much more than it reveals.