"Accountability and its Metaphors: From Forum to Agora and Bazaar," with Ciarán O’Kelly. Prepared for PSG VII: Quality and Integrity of Governance The European Group of Public Administration, Speyer, Germany, 10-12 September 2014


In this paper we seek to develop a ‘relational’ perspective on accountability and on 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.