Transparency and Discretion

Dr Andrew Barry
Oxford University Centre for the Environment

Date: 26 February 2008
Time: 1-2:30pm
Venue: CARR Seminar Room, H615

The idea of transparency has been heavily promoted as a solution to the problem of the 'resource curse': the apparent paradox that countries with high levels of natural resources often have low levels of economic growth. Transparency, it is thought, reduces the problems of secrecy, corruption and a lack of public accountability which blight the development of resource rich economies. According to Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz (2007), for example, "the first step toward reversing the oil curse is to remove the layers of secrecy that continue to surround so many aspects of the industry" through the promotion of transparency. This paper interrogates the relation between transparency and secrecy both conceptually and empirically. I argue that transparency both promotes new forms of secrecy and also the critical importance of discretion; of making sure that matters are not known about which would need subsequently to be made transparent. Moreover, the production of information which is demanded if the principle of transparency is followed creates further unintended consequences, fostering conflict about the process of information production itself and focusing attention on specific issues at the expense of others.

About the speaker
Andrew Barry is Reader in Geography at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment and a Fellow of St Catherine's College, Oxford. He has written widely on the politics of technology, social theory and political and economic geography and is the author of Political Machines: Governing a Technological Society (2001) and co-editor of the Technological Economy (2005). Dr Barry's paper draws on a recent ESRC funded study of the politics of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. He is currently researching the politics of the debates about 'peak oil' and the 'resource curse'.