Transparency: From Enlightenment to Neoliberalism or When a Norm of Liberation Becomes a Tool of Governing

65 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2014 Last revised: 8 Oct 2014

See all articles by Afshin Mehrpouya

Afshin Mehrpouya

HEC Paris - Accounting and Management Control Department

Marie-Laure Djelic

ESSEC Business School

Date Written: September 1, 2014

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, we undertake a conceptual genealogy of the powerful notion of transparency. Starting with its Enlightenment roots, we 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. We then trace the transposition of these various historical trajectories into the transnational space. Beginning with the League of Nations, we follow the various mutations of transnational transparency up to its contemporary and profound neoliberal transformation. We 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

Suggested Citation

Mehrpouya, Afshin and Djelic, Marie-Laure, Transparency: From Enlightenment to Neoliberalism or When a Norm of Liberation Becomes a Tool of Governing (September 1, 2014). HEC Paris Research Paper No. ACC-2014-1059. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2499402 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2499402

Afshin Mehrpouya (Contact Author)

HEC Paris - Accounting and Management Control Department ( email )

Jouy-en-Josas Cedex
France

Marie-Laure Djelic

ESSEC Business School ( email )

3 Avenue Bernard Hirsch
CS 50105 CERGY
CERGY, CERGY PONTOISE CEDEX
France

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