Digital Age| Managing Secrecy

Clare Birchall


As many anthropologists and sociologists have long argued, understanding the meaning and place of secrets is central to an adequate representation of society. This article extends previous accounts of secrecy in social, governmental, and organizational settings to configure secrecy as one form of visibility management among others. Doing so helps to remove the secret from a post-Enlightenment value system that deems secrets bad and openness good. Once secrecy itself is seen as a neutral phenomenon, we can focus on the politicality or ethics of any particular distribution of the visible, sayable, and knowable. Alongside understanding the work secrecy performs in contemporary society, this article argues that we can also seek inspiration from the secret as a methodological tool and political tactic. Moving beyond the claim to privacy, a claim that has lost bite in this era of state and consumer dataveillance, a “right to opacity”—the right to not be transparent, legible, seen—might open up an experience of subjectivity and responsibility beyond the circumscribed demands of the current politico-technological management of visibilities.


secrecy, transparency, visibility, visuality, privacyvity

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