Relations that unite and divide : a study of Freedom of Information legislation and transparency in Scotland
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This research (the first long-term ethnographic study of FOI in Britain) investigates concepts at the heart of FOI - transparency, trust, secrecy, truth, private, public, power and agency. Eighteen months participant observation fieldwork, alongside policy-makers, practitioners, and end-users facilitated in depth, study of the radical subject-object transformations that FOI requires, and the aesthetics that underpin it. The introduction of FOI entailed a 'culture change' - from a culture of secrecy to one of disclosure - driven, in Scotland, by the Scottish Information Commissioner through conferences. These were an opportunity for practitioners to come into new knowledge about the Act, their shared knowledge dissolving the divisions between them. But new divisions then opened between practitioners and colleagues; culture change being in the replication of a form of a relationship that previously lay between government and citizens. In their replicated form, individual practitioners disappeared - were made 'transparent' - only to reappear on being differentiated, leaving them acutely aware of the personal relations this fissure disclosed, and throwing into sharp question a theory of people's division as indicative of their 'secrecy'. Transparency, here, depended on whether people were divided or combined - acting in their own capacity, or that of the organization. While making personal relations absent from new disclosures was necessary for FOI compliance, this concealment hid a complex network of relations, and turned knowledge into 'information'. Yet the division between information and knowledge was not crisp: end-users continued to read practitioners' personal relations in disclosed information, thus relations were both absent from and implied in the information released. Whether information was public (and accessible) depended on the undifferentiated status of those who created, handled, or were the subjects of, information. As people came into new knowledge, invoking their divided or common footing, they alternated between appearing 'private' or 'public' - person or thing - a division between individuals reflecting a division within each of them.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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