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Friday, May 04, 2007

Starfishing around....

I am into my multitask reading mode as I decide on books to assign for upcoming courses.

Looking for a book on transparency has reinforced my sense that this is a bogus concept that is pretty thinly treated by most. A very thin -- and short -- work is What is Transparency? by Richard Oliver; it is superficial and filled with lots of hype and meaningless anecdotes -- the students would love it, but there is no depth to it. The recently published Full Disclosure is more substantial and analytic -- or so it seems at the outset. The problem I have with it at the moment is conceptual and I am casting a critical eye on it as I dig further. I know there is a strong assumption that (targeted) transparency is beneficial in most circumstances, but I am skeptical and keep thinking about the lessons of James Scott's Seeing Like a State.

A more fun and positive read is The Starfish and the Spider -- written in a breezy style, it tends to oversimplify but is effective in making its overall points. My big issue with it at the moment is the authors' use of "decentralization" as the primary descriptor for their starfish model. As students of federalism who are familiar with the work of Daniel Elazar know, there is a distinction between decentralization and noncentralization, and I think their argument about the power and resilience of starfish organizations would have been better described as noncentralized or even "un-centralized" (decentralized organizations assume the existence of a centralized organization from which they are "de"-ed -- if you get my drift.) Nevertheless, it is tough to put the starfish down....

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