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IM938 - Transparency, Security & Trust - Something to Hide?

20/30 CATS (10/15 ECTS)

Term 1

(Intensive one-week module during Week 11)


Transparency, security and trust are governed on many levels: by regulation, in design, by the metaphors through which they are imagined. In this module we examine the interfaces between these regimes of visibility, as they are constituted by but also overtaken by, the pace of technical change.

Many contemporary issues of public trust relate to how information is put on show, or conversely how it is kept secret. For example, from online surveillance to the management and design of privacy; from access control to algorithmic transparency; to the audit of organisations and practices. In this module, students will learn to use analytical methods drawn from multiple disciplines to examine these cross-cutting issues of visibility, protection and knowledge. We examine theories of trust and their power to reorientate approaches to security. We draw on anthropological methods of comparison to stage contrasts between the knowledge of the auditor and the ethnographer. We will think about the roots of the metaphor of vision that underlies how we formulate problems and solutions of transparency, security and trust.

The module is taught through weekly lectures and seminars in term 1.

Independent study is a crucial component of this module: students will be required to prepare in advance of each session through careful study of set texts and associated recommended readings.

Students will undertake a formative assessment exercise during reading week (week 6). The module is assessed through a coursework essay responding to a question set by the module leader. This essay is 4500-5000 words in length for students taking the module for 30 CATS and 3150-3500 words for students taking for 20 CATS.


  • Aas, K. F. (2006) ‘“The body does not lie”: Identity, risk and trust in technoculture’, Crime, Media, Culture: An International Journal, 2(2), pp. 143–158. doi: 10.1177/1741659006065401.
  • Agre, P. E. (1994) ‘Surveillance and capture: Two models of privacy’, The Information Society, 10(2), pp. 101–127. doi: 10.1080/01972243.1994.9960162.
  • Amoore, L. (2006) ‘Biometric borders: Governing mobilities in the war on terror’, Political Geography, 25(3), pp. 336–351. doi: 10.1016/j.polgeo.2006.02.001.
  • Burrell, J. (2016) ‘How the machine “thinks”: Understanding opacity in machine learning algorithms’, Big Data & Society, 3(1). doi: 10.1177/2053951715622512.
  • Coles-Kemp, L. and Hansen, R. R. (2017a) ‘Walking the Line: The Everyday Security Ties that Bind’, in Tryfonas, T. (ed.) Human aspects of information security, privacy and trust: 5th International Conference, HAS 2017, held as part of HCI International 2017, Vancouver, BC, Canada, July 9-14, 2017, Proceedings. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, pp. 464–480. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-58460-7_32.
  • Corsín Jiménez, A. (2011b) ‘Trust in anthropology’, Anthropological Theory, 11(2), pp. 177–196. doi: 10.1177/1463499611407392.
  • Croft, S. and Vaughan-Williams, N. (2017a) ‘Fit for purpose? Fitting ontological security studies “into” the discipline of International Relations: Towards a vernacular turn’, Cooperation and Conflict, 52(1), pp. 12–30. doi: 10.1177/0010836716653159.
  • Esposito, E. and Stark, D. (2019b) ‘What’s Observed in a Rating? Rankings as Orientation in the Face of Uncertainty’, Theory, Culture & Society, 36(4), pp. 3–26. doi: 10.1177/0263276419826276.
  • Ezrahi, Yaron (1992) ‘Technology and the civil epistemology of democracy.’, Inquiry;, 35(Issue 3/4, p363-376), pp. 363–376. Available at: 02299.
  • Jay, M. (1993b) Downcast eyes: the denigration of vision in twentieth-century French thought. Berkeley: University of California Press. Available at:
  • Quere, L. (2001) ‘The Cognitive and Normative Structure of Trust’, Réseaux, No 108(4), pp. 125–152. Available at: htm.
  • Nelms, T. C. et al. (2019) ‘Social Payments: Innovation, Trust, Bitcoin, and the Sharing Economy’, Theory, Culture & Society, 35(3), pp. 13–33. doi: 10.1177/0263276417746466.
  • Nick Seaver (2014) ‘Knowing Algorithms’, in digitalSTS: A Field Guide for Science & Technology Studies.
  • Palen, L. and Dourish, P. (2003) ‘Unpacking “privacy” for a networked world’, in Proceedings of the conference on Human factors in computing systems - CHI ’03. ACM Press. doi: 10.1145/642611.642635.
  • Power, M. (1997) The audit society: rituals of verification. Oxford: Oxford Univeristy Press. Available at:
  • Public Scrutiny of Automated Decisions: Early Lessons and Emerging Methods | Omidyar Network (2018). Available at: %20Decisions.pdf.
  • Strathern, M. (2000b) ‘The Tyranny of Transparency’, British Educational Research Journal, 26(3), pp. 309–321. doi: 10.1080/713651562.
  • Tsoukas, H. (1997) ‘The tyranny of light’, Futures, 29(9), pp. 827–843. doi: 10.1016/S0016-3287(97)00035-9.


Formative assessment part way through.

A 1000 word written exercise

Summative assessment:

  • A 5000 word essay for students taking module at 30 CATS
  • A 3500 words essay for students taking module at 20 CATS


By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Identify contemporary issues of transparency, security and trust and their role in contemporary debates in digital culture
  • Apply comparative methods of analysis to illuminate issues of transparency, security and trust
  • Critically reflect on the metaphorical foundations of problems and solutions of transparency, security and trust


CIM Students – Please complete the optional module choice forms distributed during the induction programme and get approval from your personal tutors during the Personal Tutor Meeting. Please then submit your approved form to Gheerdhardhini (CIM PG Coordinator) in room B0.04 by Week 0: Wednesday, 25th September by 17.00 GMT.

External Students

  • Computer Science – Please register your interest in the CIM module with the PG Administrator in your home department – Ms Sharon Hayes – by Week 1: Wednesday, 2rd October, 17.00 GMT.
  • Life Sciences – Please contact the CIM PG Coordinator (Gheerdhardhini) via email (, to request your optional module choice by Week 1 : Thursday, 3rd October, 17.00 GMT.
  • All other external students - Please contact the CIM PG Coordinator (Gheerdhardhini) via email (, to request your optional module choice by Week 1 : Wednesday, 2nd October, 17.00 GMT.


  • Please be advised that you may be expected to have access to a laptop for some of these courses due to software requirements; the Centre is unable to provide a laptop for external students.
  • Please be advised that some modules may have restricted numbers and places are allocated according to availability.
  • Please note that a request does NOT guarantee a place on the module and is subject to availability.
  • Gaining permission of a member of CIM teaching staff or a member of staff from your home department or filling in the eVision Module Registration (eMR) system with the desired module does NOT guarantee a place on that module.
  • Requests after the specified deadline will not be considered.
  • CIM PG Coordinator will get back confirming your place in the module by 27th September 2019 (For CIM students), or 4th October 2019 (For Life Sciences students).
  • Only after confirmation of a place from CIM PG Coordinator can students’ home departments confirm their registration on eVision/MRM. Registrations by students who have not received confirmation of a place from CIM will be rejected via the system.

NOTE – The above-mentioned registration deadline also applies to the CIM optional modules running in Term 2. We will consider registrations again in the first week of Term 2, but only in relation to modules where there is availability.

We are normally unable to allow students (registered or auditing) to join/leave the module after the second week of it commencing.