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The political construction of accountability keywords

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-08-04, 09:12 authored by Jonathan FoxJonathan Fox

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.



Institute of Development Studies


Academic article published in: IDS Bulletin, vol. 49, no.2, March 2018, pp.65-80.


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