Secrecy, Transparency, and (In)Visibility

Jack Bratich (Journalism & Media Studies)
Craig Scott (Communication)

In revolutionary and contemporary periods, we repeatedly find the presence of secrecy. That secrecy exists in our most trusted institutions and among the closest of friends; it is used to protect people and cultures from those who might otherwise bring them harm, but it is also employed by those who might carry out unspeakable acts without being held accountable. Secrets may generally be disliked by society, but they can also represent some of our most cherished possessions. Yet, secrecy seems counter to pervasive calls for greater transparency in many societies. This tension surrounding the invisibility of secrecy and the visibility of transparency is of growing concern as citizens, organizational leaders, and government officials manage visibilities. This seminar will introduce students to some of the many manifestations of secrets and secrecy in our society (e.g., public secrets, secret societies, proprietary/trade secrets, top secret classifications, secret juries and police, secret Santas, and even secret admirers). There is little doubt that we live in an era where demands for transparency and openness come face-to-face with the need for secrecy. By helping students to better understand the communication of secrecy, transparency, and (in)visibility, we can start to address in innovative ways some of the not-so-secret challenges that tensions of secrecy-transparency and invisibility-visibility present us in our daily lives.