The Political Construction of Accountability Keywords

Date: March 2018
Authors: Jonathan Fox
Publication type: Academic Article
Published by: Institute for 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 linguistic 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.

Jonathan Fox

Jonathan Fox is a professor in the School of International Service at American University. He studies the relationships between accountability, transparency and citizen participation. He directs the new AU Accountability Research Center, an action-research incubator. His most recent publications include articles in World Development and the IDS Bulletin, and reports published by Making All Voices Count, U4: Anti-Corruption Resource Center and the Transparency and Accountability Initiative. His books include Accountability Politics: Power and Voice in Rural Mexico (Oxford 2007) and Mexico’s Right-to-Know Reforms: Civil Society Perspectives (co-editor, Fundar/Wilson Center 2007). He was a founding member of the International Expert Panel of the Independent Reporting Mechanism of the Open Government Partnership and currently serves on the boards of directors of Fundar (Mexico) and the Bank Information Center (DC). For online publications, see http://jonathan-fox.org/.

History and Language: Keywords for Health and Accountability

August 4, 2017
Jonathan Fox
Institute for Development Studies

Jonathan Fox, Director of the new Accountability Research Center at the School of International Service, American University, shares notes from his presentation at the recent IDS-hosted event on strengthening accountability for health equity. He argues that we need to be aware of how accountability terms can and have been politically constructed, and encourages us to search for terms that do a better job of communicating the key steps on the path to accountability-building.

Read more

Political Construction of Accountability Keywords: Lessons from Action-Research

April 2018
Jonathan Fox
Keynote Address at TICTec Presentation

In this talk delivered at the TICTec Conference in Lisbon, Portugal in April 2018, Jonathan Fox argues that communicating accountability strategies should rely on conceptual and cross-cultural translation rather than awkward attempts at direct linguistic translation. To illustrate how accountability keywords are both politically constructed and contested, this presentation briefly reflects on the origins, circulation, and transformation of six relevant terms: accountability, the right to know, targeted transparency, whistle-blowers, openwashing, and sandwich strategies. 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.

Download the presentation

TICTec 2018 – The political construction of accountability keywords: lessons from action research

April 2018
Keynote address by Jonathan Fox
Video produced by mySociety

In this video of his keynote address, Jonathan Fox describes how accountability keywords are both politically constructed and contested. This talk argues that communicating accountability strategies should rely on conceptual and cross-cultural translation rather than awkward attempts at direct linguistic translation. To illustrate how accountability keywords are both politically constructed and contested, this presentation briefly reflects on the origins, circulation, and transformation of six relevant terms: accountability, the right to know, targeted transparency, whistle-blowers, openwashing, and sandwich strategies.

Watch the video