The Accountability Keywords Project
The Accountability Keywords project includes over 30 posts reflecting on the meanings and usage of relevant keywords in their own contexts and languages. The authors in the keyword series come from countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The project also includes longer work by ARC director Jonathan Fox.
ARC welcomes proposals for new keywords posts. To suggest a possible post, please email email@example.com.
Word of the Week / Palabra de la Semana
Accountability Keywords by Jonathan Fox
Date: March 2018
Author: Jonathan Fox
Published by: Institute of Development Studies
Terminology in the accountability field is ambiguous, encompassing both top-down, technocratic control initiatives and bottom‑up efforts to challenge the abuse of power and promote equity. The main proposition is that communicating accountability strategies should rely on conceptual and cross-cultural translation rather than awkward attempts at direct literal translation. To illustrate how accountability keywords are both politically constructed and contested, this article briefly reflects on the origins, circulation, and transformation of six relevant terms: transparency, the right to know, whistle-blower, advocacy, openwashing, and social accountability – including reflections from accountability advocates from Pakistan, Guatemala, and the Philippines. The conclusion calls for a two-track approach to communicate public accountability strategies, which involves (1) searching within popular cultures to find existing terms or phrases that can be repurposed, and (2) inventing new discourses that communicate ideas about public accountability that resonate with culturally grounded common-sense understandings.