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Abstract

Mobilising the literature on global governance, governmentality and accounting regulation, we trace the historical deployment of transparency and the associated assemblages of actors and technologies in transnational economic and market governance. Starting with the first uses of the term “transparency” in the European Common Market (ECM) after World War II, we show how transparency came to inform and frame the imagined rational individual as the central economic (customer, central to price discovery) and later political (citizen, central to the market's public accountability) participant. We then show how in the 1990s, with the rise of the New Financial Architecture (NFA), the role of transparency in economic/market governance was fundamentally transformed. Beginning with their good governance programs, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank gradually adopted “standardised transparency”(in the form of financial accounting, as well as standardised statistics, state budgets, corporate governance, etc.) to govern market participants through financial market discipline. This disciplining program worked in concert with a program of moral persuasion enacted through an intensifying performance measurement apparatus. We elaborate on the implications of this transformation for the political economy of accounting, by reflecting on how the reliance on standardised transparency in neoliberal governmentality has been about: a reconfiguration of the sites of problems (focused on the national level) and solutions (focalised at the global), a liquidation of transnational market governance (that is increased reach, flexiblisation and self-organisation of both the disciplining and moralising/subjectivising governance processes), and a reconfiguration of the topology of actorhood (away from states and individuals both as enablers and beneficiaries, and towards financial investors and private standard bodies).

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