We are living through a profoundly technological moment (or so we are told), one in which there has been a proliferation of media through which secrets are transacted. Some posit that such technologies signal an “end to secrecy,” while others have made arguments about the effects of digital media on the capacity of states’ to keep secrets and manage leaks, a “declining half-life of secrets.”
In this new special issue guest edited by Clare Stevens (University of Portsmouth) in the journal Secrecy and Society, researchers explore how we can understand the productive, strategic but also emancipatory potential of secrecy and ignorance in the development of security and technologies. Through a diverse range of important empirical cases, these articles show how rather than just being mediums or passive substrates, technologies are making a difference to how secrecy, disclosure, and transparency work. Collectively, they find that technologies and time mediate secrecy and disclosure, and vice versa, in ways that help “thicken” the understanding of secrecy and technologies within security discourses and studies of international politics.
The seeds for this special issue were sown in an early career workshop in 2021, convened to bring together scholars who wanted to move from understanding secrecy as the absence of knowledge to something essential to its production, and to therefore treat secrecy itself as contested, political and productive.
Dr Clare Stevens offers her thanks to Dr Susan Maret for shepherding the special issue to completion, and to Dr Clare Birchall and Professor William Walkers for contributing to the original early career workshop. And a big thank you to SPIN for providing the intellectual and collegiate inspiration for many of the discussions informing this special issue.
The open access issue is available on the Secrecy and Society website.
“Secrecy and Technologies: Introduction to the Special Issue”
Dr. Clare Stevens and Dr. Sam Forsythe
Many scholars have treated the inscrutability of technologies, secrecy, and other unknowns as moral and ethical challenges that can be resolved through transparency and openness. This paper, and the special issue it introduces, instead explores how we can understand the productive, strategic but also emancipatory potential of secrecy and ignorance in the development of security and technologies. This introduction argues that rather than just being mediums or passive substrates, technologies are making a difference to how secrecy, disclosure, and transparency work. This special issue will show how technologies and time mediate secrecy and disclosure, and vice versa. This article will therefore draw out the ways that themes of time, infrastructure, methodologies, and maintenance demonstrate the productive as well as negative dialectics of secrecy.