Accounting for Opacity: Anthropological Conundrums in an Age of Openness
(University of Toronto)
Elizabeth Hall (University of Toronto)
Paper short abstract:
In Britain, Europe and North America, 'openness' is key to accountability. When it comes to science, this means opening one's data, procedures and practices to public scrutiny. This paper considers some of the problems these new practices of accountability create for anthropology.
Paper long abstract:
In Britain, Europe and North America today, 'openness' is key to accountability. Consider Britain's Open Government National Action Plan; or former President Obama's Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. Consider, too, the efforts by scientists, scholars, academic journals and funders to institutionalise 'open science'. The goal is not just open access, but more radically, open source code and/or open data. In many settings, 'openness' is becoming the new normal and serves as a measure of accountability to diverse publics. Though openness has long been bound up with accountability, today's openness is notable for its attention to processes. It means making available to scrutiny the data, procedures and practices that were formerly inaccessible to many. In science, such openness in principle enables anybody - scientists, policymakers, journalists, ordinary citizens - to access raw data, follow scientific reasoning, reproduce analyses, double-check conclusions, and thus trust and use scientific findings to varied ends. In the name of accountability, science is increasingly being invited - sometimes compelled - to open itself up in these ways. This paper considers how these twenty-first century practices of accountability intersect with anthropological knowledge practices, and the conundrums they create. Thorny questions arise over the status of anthropological 'data' and what 'opening' them to public inspection might mean; others concern the complications of opening the process by which anthropologists move from 'data' to conclusions. We argue that, in our age of openness, anthropologists must find new ways to perform accountability and to articulate the merits of working opaquely.
Investigating accountability: practices and performances [LAW NET]