Black-boxing and the politics of parliamentary oversight in South Africa

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We investigate a parliamentary committee meeting overseeing a state-owned entity, in order to track the processes of knowledge production that occur in parliamentary oversight. The entity’s representatives use “epistemological condensation” (Maton 2014: 130) to present the information they give to the members of parliament as incontestable, effectively “black-boxing” it. “Black-boxing” (Latour 1987: 2) is a process which presents knowledge in such a way that little room is left for questioning it. The committee members also use “epistemological rarefaction” (Maton 2014: 130) to open the black box of the presentation and question its contents, challenging the entity’s practices. This has theoretical implications for building a model of the role of discourse in knowledge production, and practical applications for the strengthening of parliamentary oversight.


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