Dissecting the semantics of accountability and its misuse

Ciaran O'Kelly, Melvin Dubnick

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
205 Downloads (Pure)


In this chapter, we address the many different meanings that accountability harbors and examine the effects of such complex and multifaceted interpretations in the light of governance quality. We seek to develop a ‘relational’ perspective on accountability and on the so-called ‘unaccountability.’ We focus on Mark Bovens’s use of the forum metaphor in his accountability model, arguing that his relational perspective is too narrow. We advocate instead a far broader and more fundamental engagement with the idea of relational accountability. Expanding the metaphors, we point to two other accountability spaces: ‘agora,’ a primordial accountability space and ‘bazaar,’ an emergent accountability space rooted in ground-level exchange between different actors. Assertions about ‘unaccountability,’ we argue, very often reflect a failure to appreciate the fundamentally relational nature of accountability: those who use such assertions as bases for action aimed at making situations, processes, or people ‘more accountable’ in fact seek to assert or impose a certain form of relationship—one that is hierarchical and monopolistic—and reflect therefore a drive to power and domination. This represents a violation of accountability at the cost of the overall quality of governance.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationQuality of Governance: Values and Violations
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages35
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • accountability
  • metaphors
  • Bovens
  • forum


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