Performing the Court: Public Hearings and the Politics of Judicial Transparency in Argentina



This article presents an understanding of transparency that draws on the instrumentality and performativity of a series of public encounters between the Argentine Supreme Court of Justice and subjects affected by river pollution. An ethnographic examination of those encounters illustrates how judicial adjudication articulates with a larger discourse of change and transparency that mushroomed after the 2001–2002 economic crisis giving the Court a public face. This crisis had a negative impact on the credibility of political and legal institutions. A focus on the performative character of public hearings implies an appreciation of transparency that is more comprehensive than the one enabled by visibility. As I argue in this article, this is because public hearings entail displays of the self that unfold through a complex sensorial experience that has effects on audiences. In the context of the Argentine Supreme Court's practices that this article examines, such audiences may extend far beyond the courtroom. Ultimately, the study demonstrates how transparency can be perceived as the performance of social positions that provide means and ends for a multitude of intended and unintended actors.