On 26 October 2015, BBC News published an article entitled China ‘social credit’: Beijing sets up huge system. It describes how the Chinese government is building an ‘omnipotent “social credit” system that is meant to rate each citizen’s trustworthiness’. Warnings about the advent of ‘digital dictatorship’ and phrases like ‘Big Data meets Big Brother’ have proliferated in research and Western public media ever since, and they reflect a rapidly growing focus on the contemporary global process whereby power and control become entwined with digitalization and result in new and often concerning forms of transparency.
But have we, as some critics fear, finally reached the age of universal transparency and total surveillance? Is it really the case that information systems can now ‘provide a computer age version of universal transparency with a degree of illumination that would exceed even Bentham’s most outlandish fantasies’? Do we face a kind of ‘absolute transparency’, driven by digitally based cybernetic control that leads to the ‘effective closure of formerly open systems’. In the paper “From Universalizing Transparency to the Interplay of Transparency Matrices: Critical insights from the emerging social credit system in China“, published in Organization Studies Hans Krause Hansen (Copenhagen Business School) and myself suggest ‘no’ and develop the concept of ‘transparency matrices’ for a more complex view. The central purpose of the paper is to demonstrate the intricacies of transparency in contemporary processes and practices of organizing and, by implication, the unlikeliness of universal transparency. Transparency comes about in multiple forms with varying effects of power and control and alongside the production of new invisibilities. The paper shows how critical knowledge of these processes can nuance our understandings of the workings of transparency in contemporary organizational settings and help question deterministic interpretations of the matter.
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