The Political Construction of Accountability Keywords
Date: March 2018
Authors: Jonathan Fox
Publication type: Scholarly Journal Article
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. This article formed the basis of a keynote presentation at mySociety’s The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference on 18 and 19 April 2018. Download the powerpoint presentation or watch the video.