Transparency. Thinking Through an Opaque Concept

Transparency. Thinking Through an Opaque Concept

Emmanuel Alloa & Dieter Thomä
St. Gallen
Vom - Bis
19.05.2016 - 20.05.2016
Emmanuel Alloa

“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants”, Louis Brandeis once famously stated. One hundred years later, there is a growing consensus that transparency is one of democracy’s best tools and that every citizen has a right to transparency. Demands for more transparency are more widespread than ever, in fields as diverse as corporate and public administration, finance, scientific research, sports, technology, media, and healthcare. Transparency is not restricted to the social or corporate spheres, however, but is also seen as an effective way to increase accountability and responsibility on an individual level: acting under the gaze of the public eye leads to more ethical behavior, or so we’re told. As opposed to concepts like regulation or surveillance, transparency doesn’t seem to have a negative counterpart. Perhaps the ultimate consensual value of our time, transparency is being invoked by President Obama and whistleblower Edward Snowden alike, by Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange but also by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Yet nothing is less clear than what is meant exactly when the word ‘transparency’ is used. At times the power of 'transparency' appears to lie in its mere utterance, as if it were a magic formula whose meaning doesn't need to be understood for its effects to be felt.

The International Workshop Transparency. Thinking Through an Opaque Concept aims at inquiring into the historical circumstances which allowed the concept of transparency to emerge in Early Modernity and how it progressively came to occupy such a central place in contemporary discourse. But what ‘transparency’ exactly refer to? The metaphoric level of the notion seems to strangely mirror its literal meaning: the perfectly transparent window is one which completely diverts the attention from itself. The less we see the windowpane, the more we see through it. But if seeing through is synonymous with overlooking, it can easily be understood why transparency – as an operative concept – rarely became an object of reflection in its own right.

After the first event, which took place at the University of St. Gallen in May 2015 (Transparency. A Critical Approach), the workshop aims at combining various approaches to the problem (philosophy, intellectual history, political sciences, cultural theory) in order to map and interconnect the various sites at which it became virulent and to ask how its imperative decisively shapes behaviors today.

Evening Program

“Transparency, Surveillance, Resistance” - Art Panel with activists and net artists

@Palace St. Gallen, Thu 19th, 20.15



Barbara Jungclaus (