Clare Birchall is Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of Kent. She is the author of Knowledge Goes Pop: From Conspiracy Theory to Gossip (Berg, 2006), co-editor (with Gary Hall) of New Cultural Studies: Adventures in Theory (EUP, 2006), and editor of a special issue of Cultural Studies (21 (1) 2007). She is the reviews editor for Culture Machine and is involved with various online projects including Liquid Theory TV, Liquid Books, and the Open Humanities Press.‘
The full title of this talk is '”If a right to the secret is not maintained, we are in a totalitarian space”: Why WikiLeaks might not be as radical as it thinks’.
Dr Clare Birchall discusses the way the ideal of open government might date back to the Enlightenment, but in recent years transparency has been given a modish inflection through its association with and dependence on e-technologies, as well as its invocation in the U.S. by Obama who has been called ‘America’s first hip president’ (Fulllwood, 2009). To go against transparency in the ‘west’ today is to be opposed to progress (conservative in the general sense); corrupt (if there is nothing to hide, why fear transparency?); or anti-democratic (the link between transparency and democracy has become unassailable). I want to try to open up a more nuanced debate in this paper. After examining transparency’s ascendance, and considering other academic critiques of transparency, I will be asking whether the left ought to be thinking about how it can appropriate the secret from the processes of (in)securitization that became a feature of the Bush administration, rather than investing wholly in transparency. The problem is not that America ‘has forgotten how to keep a secret’ as Donald Rumsfeld claimed in 2004, but that the left has forgotten to think through and with the secret; it has abandoned secrecy and its productive possibilities. The lessons and strategies of secrecy have been obscured, that is, by a moral attachment to disclosure. Recognizing this could open up a new public discourse: one that does not presume the political and moral alignments of concealment and disclosure.