G5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

Transparency as ideology : fetishism and why individuals supposedly see well

List of Authors: Torssonen Sami

Publisher: University of Turku

Place: Turku

Publication year: 2019

ISBN: 978-951-29-7588-4

eISBN: 978-951-29-7589-1

URL: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-29-7589-1


A wide variety of organizations, ranging from churches to governments and corporations, now claim that they are transparent. They suggest, furthermore, that this transparency enables their members, citizens, customers, or workers to see well and thus act freely. This work explores the social and natural factors that give rise to and shape such “individualist transparency,” which is conceived as a type of appearance planning that empowers and controls individuals by ostensibly enabling them to see well.

The study’s main argument is that individualist transparency is produced by ideologists (professional society builders disproportionately affected by the ruling class) who plan how things seem to be, calling this “transparency.” The role of the transparency metaphor in this is to suggest direct perception. The claim of direct perception is useful in processing a contradiction between top-down ideological socialization and autonomy. This contradiction is engendered in part by the fetishistic character of commodity production and exchange.

The research arrives at three main conclusions. First, while individualist transparency is often based on misleading claims, it is not entirely illusory. Although transparency ideologists must seem misleadingly neutral with respect to the real conflicts they regulate, they must also compromise with the real experience and interests of their audiences. Second, individualist transparency is not socially necessary: it may be possible to replace it with a less misleading horizontal form that does not contribute to domination and exploitation along class and other lines. This will be difficult, however, as long as ideological socialization is needed due to deep-seated social conflicts. Third, appearance planning and social transparency would be necessary even in a society without ideology. Future research should therefore attempt to formulate a positive research program on horizontal, non-ideological social transparency.

The study builds on empirical studies concerning transparency in livestock welfare commodification and the historical development of transparency language. It combines functional explanation, a language conception that emphasizes struggle, and a historical approach that rises from the abstract to the concrete.

The dissertation’s theoretical position expands and modifies the so-called Projekt Ideologietheorie framework of ideology theory. The Projekt framework combines a theory of ideological socialization (top-down invitation into positions of domination and subordination) with a materialist interpretation of how everyday life molds people’s thought. The study augments this framework with an interpretation of Karl Marx’s conception of appearance, in which objects and subjects are not cleanly separable from each other. In this context, the work views transparency as a moment of the process of appearance that preserves the traces of objects for subjects.

Last updated on 2021-24-06 at 09:42