FRAL - Programme franco-allemand en Sciences humaines et sociales

History of transparency: making politics visible, France and Germany, 1890-1990 – HISTRANS

Submission summary

Today, transparency is a political demand which is associated with the progress of democracy, participation and accountability. The current debate often does not reflect two important aspects: First, the quest for transparency is neither entirely new, nor is it a super-temporal category. Rather, it has a history and differs according to social and political contexts. Second, transparency is deeply ambivalent. As there are virtually no historical studies on transparency yet, we focus on the history of political transparency. Transparency is not really a stable feature of a political system. Rather, it is articulated as a demand, concerning above all the access to information, which is considered to make politics “legible”. The project will concentrate on two empirical fields. First, we will analyse the history of parliamentary inquiry committees between roughly 1890 and 1970. Secondly, we will research two party funding scandals at the end of the 20th century (Flick-Skandal and affaire Urba).
We will try to answer the following questions: When did transparency become an effective political demand? What kind of measures have been proposed? Who were the most important actors? Which contexts should be taken into account? Which were the outcomes of the demands for transparency: Did they enhance public knowledge about political processes? Did they strengthen or weaken the confidence in political processes? As a conceptional framework we work with the categories developed by Heald (transparency upwards, downwards, outwards, inwards).
We will test the following hypothesis: Demands for transparency developed in the first half of the 20th century and was focused in the first instance on individual cases and politicians. By the 1970s/1980s, the quest for transparency would concern more and more the whole political system, that should systematically develop instruments for transparency beyond individual cases. If this is accurate, there is much to suggest that demands for transparency did not strengthen trust in democratic processes. Beginning with the 1980s, however, there are new political actors entering the scene of transparency politics, demanding new instruments against opacity.
The project is intended to carry on the close collaboration the applicants have begun in 2011 in the field of corruption history. As a counter-concept against corruption, transparency will complement ongoing research of the applicants and the project will strengthen their international research network.

Project coordination

Frédéric MONIER (Centre N. Elias)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


TUDA Technische universität Darmstadt Institut für Geschichte
SIRICE Sorbonne identités
CNE HEMOC Centre N. Elias

Help of the ANR 95,143 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: May 2018 - 36 Months

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