The current era is often described in epistemic terms, as an ‘information age’ or ‘knowledge society’. Such claims reflect ideals that are deeply ingrained in modern societies. There is a widespread assumption that successful social and political interaction involves access to information and that political power is gained when knowledge replaces obscurity. Such assumptions reflect contemporary ‘epistemic folkways’, which are manifested in two widespread epistemic phenomena – faith in ‘transparency’ and conspiracy theorising
International Relations (IR) theorists should be well-equipped to understand such developments. However, reflection concerning epistemic matters in IR is in under attack, increasingly presented as a distraction from the formulation of empirically grounded accounts of international politics. This article argues that reflexive theory can in fact play an important role in helping IR scholars to understand contemporary epistemic folkways. Drawing on the Critical Theory of Theodor Adorno, it is argued that the transparency ideal and conspiracy theorising reflect the efforts of individuals to increase their influence in a world in which they are both objects of technical knowledge and, in principle, epistemically empowered subjects. Reflection on the subject-object relationship suggests that the pursuit of increasingly unmediated access to information is in fact a key source of reification and disempowerment.