Transparency through Labelling? Layers of Visibility in Environmental Risk Management

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapter


The aim of this chapter is to move the issue a bit beyond the polarized views of
profound critical reflection versus excessive trust in the checking procedures behind
standards. We claim that the polarized views are largely due to an over-simplistic
understanding of transparency. By comparing practical policy processes surrounding
various standards, we aim to provide nuance to the issue of transparency. This study ofpolicy processes, along with examinations of theoretical work in policy analysis, makes
clear the limits of merely treating transparency in terms of ‘more’ versus ‘less’. A more
thorough understanding of the promise and limits of transparency in policy processes
requires, we argue, another dimension, consisting of qualitatively different ‘layers’ of
transparency. The basis for our emphasis on this additional dimension is the obvious -
yet often overlooked - notion that an examination of standards, which are in turn
claimed to disclose hidden, and often physical, risks, needs to take the political context
into account as well as the negotiations and framings surrounding the schemes on which
the standards are based. Since risks are uncertain, socially and culturally dependent, and
since they are evaluated and interpreted in many different ways by actors with diverse
ideologies and interests, a more comprehensive transparency must reach far beyond the
concrete visibility and direct awareness of the label itself.
Based on these claims we find it useful to distinguish between four layers of
transparency in relation to standards, certificates and labels: (1) simple, mediated
transparency, (2) negotiated transparency, (3) intra-frame transparency and (4) interframe
transparency (see figure 1). We maintain, nevertheless, that transparency through
standards and labels remains closely related to people’s own direct experiences of risks.
Thus, experiences and senses of our environment never loose their relevance even in
relation to very abstract, technical and expert-oriented tools. Hence, in addition, direct
experience (yet situated, interpreted, etc.) is prevalent at all these four layers.
Empirically, this chapter examines how these layers of transparency operate in
the context of standardized eco-labelling schemes that are claimed to make invisible
risks visible and manageable.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)


  • uncertainty, eco-standards, framing, forestry, food, electricity, Transparency
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTransparency in a New Global Order: Unveiling Organizational Visions
EditorsC, Garsten, M. Lindh de Montoya
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
ISBN (Print)978-1-84542-325-4
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Publication categoryResearch