accountabilitybloke (old blog)

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Scratching the itch…. (warning: pretty dull stuff)

I have to admit to having this “itch” to get to the bottom of accountability — not merely as mechanisms of governance (which is the focus of anything I might publish on the subject), but also as a ethical and psychological concept that drives that part of human behavior related to governance. And the more I scratch that itch, the more it becomes an obsession….

Last week as I did my intermittent wandering through the bookstores in Harvard Square (something Randi and I do every so often — this time with friend Justin), I stumbled across Stephen Darwall’s “The Second-Person Standpoint.” I have come across this title before, but the $49.95 price tag ($10 bucks cheaper on Amazon) kept me from even opening the book out of curiosity. (My urge to scratch that itch has its limits — obviously economic in nature).

But having my little Blackberry in hand, I looked the book up on Amazon and found that there was a used copy available to $25 and I took the plunge via my mobile connection. Having done the deed I stood in the bookstore and began to read the copy in hand (it would be a couple of days before the shipped copy arrived), and suddenly the itch became intense. What a find!

As soon as I got home I went searching for online articles by Darwall, and I soon began to regret not having paid the full price at the Harvard University Press bookstore so I could dive in quicker. I share the find in a Skype call with friend Ciarán the next day, and he (who had library access to a copy in Belfast) was confirming the value of Darwall’s work the next day.

The book arrived Thursday, and except for the normal interruptions I have been digging into it at every spare minute of reading time. It ain’t a page-turner by any means (it really is pretty abstract for the first two chapters — and then becomes quite readable with examples drawn from the world of boxing, dogfights, feline obsessions, etc in chapter three.) For the moment it has made me push Sennett aside….

Drawing on Kant, PF Strawson (and relatedly, Dewey), Fichte, Pufendorf (yup, that’s right: Pufendorf), Darwall posits a really interesting view that reinforces a view about the moral and social foundations of accountability that has intrigued me for the past few years — a view that begins with the necessity of a Strawsonian moral community as the key to understanding accountability.

The timing of this “find” could not be better, for I am in the midst of attempting to articulate the relationship of moral agency to accountability. It also is helping me make sense of (and critique) a recent argument made at a conference in Dayton about ten days ago that distinguished between two views of accountability — one focused on accountability-as-mechanisms of governance and the other focused on accountability-as-virtue (or, in my terms, instrumentalist and ‘consummatory’ views of accountability). Most of our attention to accountability in public administration and governance studies has been on the instrumentalist side of the divide — i.e., that the importance and value of accountability is to be found in its consequences (its impact on organizational control, performance, and ethical behavior). But what if accountability is more fundamental than that — what if it operates as the very moral foundations upon which governance operations?

Enough said for now….

June 1st, 2008 Posted by | account giving, accountability, accountabilitybloke, accountable governance | no comments