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A case study in the rise of public sector transparency: Understanding the global diffusion of freedom of information law

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Stubbs, RBF (2012) A case study in the rise of public sector transparency: Understanding the global diffusion of freedom of information law. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

The thesis presents an analysis of the rise of public sector transparency by examining in
depth the global spread of a chief reform, freedom of information law. The thesis utilizes
a socio-legal approach to examine the diffusion of the law and this distinguishes it from
much of the FOI literature, which tends towards legal formalism or empiricism (Chapter
Two). The thesis provides an overview of the diffusion of FOI law amongst adopter
countries and examines statistical similarities and differences between adopters and nonadopters
(Chapter Three). It finds that levels of globalization are an important factor
differentiating adopters and non-adopters, a finding that is later supported and explored
within the thesis.
Theoretical foundations for understanding the rise of public sector transparency
and the diffusion of FOI law are assessed. The largely implicit theoretical assumptions of
existing studies are drawn out and critiqued (Chapter Four). Two foundations are
identified as prominent within the literature: a ‘modernization foundation’ suggests the
spread of FOI law is driven by capitalist development, while an ‘agent foundation’
suggests the spread of the law is best understood with reference to competing social
actors. While these foundations have their own strengths and weaknesses, the thesis
provides an alternative theoretical foundation: ‘transnational historical materialism’
(Chapter Five). The alternative foundation, grounded in global political economy, places
the diffusion of the law and the rise of public sector transparency within an understanding
of the changing nature of state institutions in modern history. Central to this
understanding is the way the state apparatus relates to society within a given historical
context, not just within particular countries, but across countries within historical periods
of the modern world system.
Transnational historical materialism provides a macro-historical understanding of
the diffusion of FOI law (Chapters Six and Seven). It places the emergence and early
diffusion of the law, prior to the 1990s, within the historical development of a set of
states that may be called ‘Lockean’. The law initially emerged and diffused amongst ‘Lockean’ states because the relationship between state apparatuses and society within
those states developed as a consensual social contract facilitating a ‘right to know’.
Outside these ‘Lockean’ states throughout much of modern history so-called ‘Hobbesian’
states prevented the further diffusion of the law. Within ‘Hobbesian’ states the authority
of the state apparatus overshadowed weak civil societies and prevented the development
of a ‘right to know’. However, towards the end of the twentieth century the
‘Lockean’/‘Hobbesian’ dichotomy of modern states began to break down and FOI law
proliferated widely. ‘Hobbesian’ structures underwent a process of transformation in the
context of an emergent global political economy that facilitated the further diffusion of
the law, and public sector transparency.
The thesis conducts a comparative case study analysis of China, Mexico and India
in order to examine the transformation of ‘Hobbesian’ states and the recent proliferation
of FOI law in more detail (Chapters Eight and Nine). These cases have been chosen on
the basis that they are important and interesting, and they demonstrate several key points.
First, the cases highlight the importance of the historical relationship between the state
apparatus and society in determining public information access. Second, China, Mexico
and India also demonstrate the nature of the adoption process in ‘Hobbesian’ states
within the context of the emergent global political economy and increased transnational
relations. The adoption process is understood in each case as a ‘passive revolution’,
wherein adoption is a unique national reflection of international developments. The
recent proliferation of FOI law outside ‘Lockean’ states and across a wide range of
‘Hobbesian’ states has been made possible through the development of a transnational
support network for transparency that provides a facilitative environment for unique
national reflections.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: open government, freedom of information, right to know, openness, transparency
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Date Deposited: 17 Aug 2012 04:42
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:53
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