Accountability Key Words

No other word is associated more with fighting corruption than “accountability.”  Google turns up 43 million references to the phrase “accountability corruption references” in less than a second (!). There are 177 articles with the word accountability in the title in the latest version of Matthew’s bibliography.

Thanks to Andreas Schedler, we know accountability is not unidirectional. It can go from down to up, as when voters hold politicians to account, and side-to-side, as when a government audit agency reports on the performance of another government entity. As Dale Brinkerhoff explains, the meaning of accountability ranges from nothing more than having to provide information, as when an agency must fille an annual report on its activities, to a politician or administrator having to explain why something is being done or not done, to the imposition of sanctions on someone or some agency for doing or not doing something.

The failure to curb corruption is almost always attributed to a lack of accountability, and prescriptions for reducing corruption inevitably recommend strengthening accountability. But as Schedler, Brinkerhoff, and many others have shown, “accountability” is really a complex of ideas. And that is before trying to parse what ideas lie behind its rough equivalents in other languages: rendición de cuentas in Spanish; bibinka in Filipino; and tanggung gugat sosial in Bahasa. To name but a few

Thanks to American University’s Accountability Research Center, we now have a guide to the many concepts buried in the English term “accountability” and similar ones in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, and a half a dozen other major tongues. Its title is Accountability Keywords; it’s a web site with a monograph of the same name and some 40 posts to date that expound on how the term is used in different ways in different circumstances in different places. An invaluable resource for advocates, policymakers, and scholars.    

1 thought on “Accountability Key Words

  1. Excellent resource! Expanding on what you correctly note as constituting an abundance of accountability discourse in academic spaces, I wonder what your perception is on the sheer quantity of academic literature of accountability. In my own research, I have found it useful that many academics (see here: have identified different “subtypes” of accountability, such as Horizontal, Vertical, and Diagonal forms of accountability. However, this has led to a confusing saturation of subcategorizations. For instance, whereas some academics (such as Anna Luhrmann and Staffan Lindberg) views political accountability as a vertical form of accountability, other academics (such as Carmen Malena or Anne Marie Goetz) have viewed political accountability mechanisms as horizontal forms of accountability. This has led to an overwhelming array of contradictory literature on accountability. So, I guess where I am left is wondering if all this discourse surrounding accountability is becoming so confusing that it is no longer actually productively advancing anticorruption efforts within the field of political theory?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.