Accepted paper:

New transparency, new opacity


Lisa Conrad (Leuphana University L√ľneburg)

Paper short abstract:

Enterprise resource planning software (ERP) has become a standard in large and medium-sized organizations. While these packages are mainly framed as tools for increasing transparency, they can also be used to hide and conceal certain actions - at least by those who know how.

Paper long abstract:

This paper emerges from my ongoing research on the software company SAP and its widely adopted product, enterprise resource planning software (ERP). Software of this kind and especially those packages offered by SAP have become the standard means of coordination in large and medium-sized companies as well as increasingly in the public sector. One of the central arguments for introducing these complex and costly systems is the increase of transparency that they are said to bring about. ERP systems are framed as tools for creating new kinds of visibilities and for giving access to previously hidden actions and correlations. However, while this may well be true, ERP systems can also be regarded as involving a new kind of opacity. Due to their intricate, multilayered architecture and the high level of tech versatility that running and maintaining them implies, ERP systems can turn into means for hiding certain activities. In my contribution to the panel, I would like to flesh out these two tendencies of transparency and opacity. While the former is very present when it comes to digital devices of data gathering and data aggregation, the latter - the idea that these devices can also serve obfuscation - is less often discussed. The topic is of course related to questions of power: Whose actions are made transparent and who is able to hide their doing in some dark corner of the software? What are the battles fought over being watched and controlled vs. being invisible and autonomous?

panel G05
Seeing with data and devices