Sovereignties and Secrets: Transparency and the public individual

Year: 2012

Author: Carter, Jenni

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper explores the ethical and political conditions of 'transparency' and the responsibilities of the public individual to generate data in education systems in neoliberal times.  Drawing on Derrida's view of ethical responsibility and the 'secret', the ways in which policy reform has reconfigured the boundaries of the public and the private are examined.

The principle of 'transparency' is advanced as a justification for education reform by the Australian Commonwealth government. This principle has an historical trajectory, where since the 1980s Commonwealth education policy has sought to establish the means by which to calculate, measure and control the work of students and teachers to promote an education marketplace.  Gillard describes having a 'constant flow of data' as the cornerstone for improvement, supporting parent choice, and making sure teachers are 'teaching the right things in the right ways'.  In current times such data is about the literacy achievements of individual students and the work of teachers, created by annual testing through NAPLAN (National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy). New forms of technology enable this data to be distributed through digital archives such as My School, recording and publishing the lives of individuals, while at the same time legitimating what counts as literacy.  

This paper examines two problematics for ethical responsibility that are configured by the call for transparency through the production of data such as that through NAPLAN.  The first is how records such as those made available through My School are portrayed as public information, putting in place an ethical relationship where the state determines both what is counted as public and what it as stake for students, teachers, schools and communities. The second examines the new forms of sovereignty adopted by the state in order to both legitimate and secure the means to declare what is public and private. Both of these problematics are considered within the aporia of being both public and private, of the relationship between the secret and disclosure, and literacy as an 'unknowable secret'. Such a consideration brings attention to the means by which an education system can give an account of student learning and teachers work in ways that further justice and ethical responsibility.