(p. ix ) Preface and Acknowledgments
the idea for this book had its inception during a workshop on globalization held at Duke University in 1999. During this workshop a law professor specializing in corporate law argued that accountability to credit-rating agencies such as Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s could substitute for democratic accountability as a source of legitimation on the world stage. The immediate intellectual context for this argument was a discussion about the limited capacity of democratic nation-states to regulate global capital markets. Perhaps it is needless to say that his argument did not go over very well as a credible solution to democratic deficits worldwide. More than a decade later, as I wrap up writing this manuscript, the world economy is recovering from one of the worst financial crises in recorded history, and confidence in the global financial system is abysmally low. In the current context, the thought of placing faith in a private credit-rating agency as a reliable alternative to democratic accountability seems even more far-fetched. The problems of democratic illegitimacy in world politics, by contrast, are as real and as pressing as ever.
Even though this law scholar’s argument was not persuasive, it did provoke me to think in new ways. I had had a longstanding interest in debates about globalization and democracy, but that workshop was the first time that I noticed accountability as a particularly important concept in such debates. How had democracy come to be seen as so implausible that a substitute was necessary? How had democratic accountability become so diminished that a private-sector corporation like Moody’s, whose primary orientation is to the profitability of financial markets, would appear to anyone as a plausible substitute? And why was accountability the crucial term?
These were the sort of questions that first guided my research. Newly sensitized to the concept, I began noticing how widespread the appeals to accountability had become, not just pertaining to globalization, but across many fields of social life. From policy debates over education and health care reform (p. x ) in the United States, to analyses of economic development and good governance in sub-Saharan Africa, to discussions of transitional justice and human rights atrocities, accountability was everywhere. Now, undoubtedly, the apparent ubiquity of the concept in part reflected a change in my own awareness. Much as a new car buyer might suddenly notice how many cars of the same model are on the road, I was noticing the many people who shared my interest in accountability. Nevertheless, it is also the case that more people were actually appealing to accountability. The concept had found its way from relatively obscure technocratic studies of bureaucracies and corporate governance into the popular consciousness. Accountability has become a buzzword of our times.
Normatively, the concept (if not the word, which does not translate well) seems to have almost universal appeal and a strong association with political legitimacy. For this reason, accountability has become contested ground in struggles over authority and power in world politics. Virtually all sides of the globalization debates seek to appropriate the concept to their advantage. Activists and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) critique international institutions and multinational corporations for their unaccountability to stakeholders, just as these institutions criticize activists and NGOs for their lack of accountability. Transnational investors and international institutions critique Third World governments for their unaccountable financial structures even as Third World governments complain about international investors who escape accountability for their dangerous speculative practices. Immigrant-advocacy networks demand accountability for the maltreatment of undocumented workers, while nationalist opponents demand accountability from institutions that support illegal immigrants.
In examining such claims I came to realize that as pervasive as the concept had become politically, accountability’s meaning was far from self-evident. Not only are there many variations of accountability—market accountability, fiscal accountability, hierarchical accountability, peer accountability, horizontal accountability, and vertical accountability to name just a few—but the ambiguity among these variations presented a problem for those interested primarily in accountability as a resource for democracy. Too often, the concept is used loosely or in a generalized manner that masks just what sort of accountability is being demanded, as if any and all forms of accountability are the same, when, in fact, many of those demanding accountability don’t have democratic ideals in mind at all. I consequently found myself unsettled by the way that accountability was used, not merely as a stand-in for democracy, but as a way to displace democratic norms in a more rudimentary sense. My anxiety was that the language of accountability, with its connotations of (p. xi ) justice and political legitimacy, might be used to reproduce institutional hierarchies and to exclude detrimentally affected stakeholders from decision making. Armed with this insight, I set out to provide a defense of democratic accountability. This, however, required that I develop a thorough understanding of what democratic accountability means. That proved more difficult than I imagined.
When I started researching for this book, I was surprised by the paucity of academic scholarship on democratic accountability per se. Outside the field of public management, academic analyses of the concept were few and far between. Given the considerable normative weight it was being accorded, there seemed a genuine need for more sustained and direct theoretical work to unpack accountability’s meaning and its relation to democratic legitimacy. This book is one effort to do just that.
At the same time, I recognize my work as part of a larger wave of academic production on the topic. Since commencing work on the book, new research on democratic accountability has emerged in small but growing streams within political science. In the field of international relations, the concept plays an increasingly prominent role in debates over cosmopolitanism and the reform of international institutions. The prospect of extending conventional democracy beyond the nation-state presents intractable difficulties of scale and institutional capacity. Consequently, for a growing number of commentators, the idea of democratically accountable global governance has a plausibility that the idea of a centralized global democratic government modeled on nation-states evidently does not. Among scholars of comparative politics, the concept has acquired importance in studies of democratization and development. Particular attention has been paid to how government impunity can persist despite the existence of vertical accountability dynamics between elected officials and society. In addition, the literature on transitional justice has drawn connections between accountability for human rights abuses and the prospects for successful democratization. Among scholars of American politics, accountability has become an important category for modeling electoral politics and the relation between representatives and constituents. Political theorists have been slower to pick up the concept, but this, too, is changing, as evidenced by the growing number of articles and conference presentations that address the topic. This expansion of scholarship has brought somewhat greater sophistication to academic discourse on democratic accountability. Nonetheless, these streams of scholarship tend to be organized according to discrete and competing paradigms of democratic theory (e.g., deliberative approaches, rational choice approaches) with little engagement across democratic traditions. Furthermore, they tend to follow distinct and parallel tracks (p. xii ) within political science subfields with few efforts to bring them into a common conversation. Although I make no claim to be comprehensive, in this book I aim to bring some of these streams together into a conversation about democratic accountability’s meaning and applications across democratic traditions and levels of analysis.
I also find myself at odds with several prevailing trends within this scholarship. Mainstream approaches have increasingly adopted a rather narrow conception of democratic accountability as, above all else, an instrument of discipline and control. They have also tended to view democratic accountability primarily through the optic of governmental institutions. Thus, questions of democratic accountability are reduced to questions of how, for example, electoral institutions can be designed to maximize popular control over officials. I do not wish to deny the importance of electoral institutions and popular control. Indeed, much of this book is devoted to analyzing different ways that institutions can be configured to enhance democratic control. Nevertheless, the exclusive focus on formal institutions and the exercise of control sits in tension with my own sense of democratic accountability as being both more unruly in its exercise and more generative in its effects. When I think of democratic accountability, I think as much of confrontations against the state as I do of popular energies being channeled through state structures. I think of interventions—sometimes unpredictable and unwieldy—in and against formal institutions. When I think of democratic accountability, I don’t think simply of a prefigured public asserting its authority. I think, also, of collective action and the forging of new common grounds and new forms of solidarity around the need to demand answers for shared experiences of domination. The narrowed, institutional vision that increasingly dominates discussions of democratic accountability needs, I believe, to be challenged. This I attempt to do. In this book, I turn to both historical case studies and contemporary democratic theory to draw out some of these alternative dimensions and to paint a richer picture of accountability’s democratic potential.
When I set out on this project, I thought I was going to be analyzing democratic accountability as part of a larger defense of popular sovereignty in the context of globalization. Instead, I find myself arguing for a more radical break with sovereignty in all of its forms. The norm of sovereignty, along with the more general idea of there being a final authority, is, I believe, fundamentally incompatible with democratic ideals of accountable governance. Sovereignty entails the assertion of unaccountable authority rather than the application of accountability to authority. Consequently, in much the same way that the Westphalian principle of state sovereignty has given license to (p. xiii ) authoritarian governments by shielding them from international scrutiny, the norm of popular sovereignty provides cover for the impunity of political communities. Citizenries can be tyrannical with their exclusions of peoples deeply and detrimentally affected by community decisions. From the perspective of popular sovereignty, democratic accountability offers a way to secure the boundaries and enforce the ultimate authority of a prefigured community. Against such an outlook, I interpret democratic accountability in ways that draw out contrary potentials. Without question, the exercise of democratic accountability can help to secure communal authority. As I will show, however, democratic accountability can also help to constitute new communities and to deconstitute old ones. These latter functions become especially crucial for my efforts to situate democratic accountability within a post-sovereignty politics characterized by reflexivity, mutuality, and the rejection of all claims to final (unaccountable) authority.
Finally, even though this book is inspired by debates about globalization and democracy, it is ultimately not a book about globalization. It is, instead, a conceptual intervention and a work of democratic theory that examines what democratic accountability means and entails as a source of political legitimacy in a more general sense. This takes me through a wider set of contexts and literatures than what is typically found in debates over global governance. Some of the accountability frameworks I examine are commonplace. Others are considerably less so. Some are small in scale. Others are global in aspiration. It is my hope that the reader finds that this study has as much relevance for local democratic politics as it does for discussions of national and transnational governance.
Over the course of researching and writing this book, I have collected many debts. This book originated as my dissertation at Duke University. Since then, it has undergone many twists and turns and numerous revision cycles with many additions and subtractions. It has evolved into quite a different product. It nevertheless retains my debt to the numerous teachers and mentors who inspired me at its genesis. As my dissertation advisor and friend, Romand Coles has been an enduring mentor, both intellectually and professionally. I continue to draw tremendous inspiration from his numerous scholarly and political engagements, as well as from his courage, boundless energy, and high-speed intellect. I also thank the other members of my dissertation committee: Ruth Grant, Michael Hardt, and Peter Euben, as well as Neil De Marchi, who graciously served as a shadow committee member, reading and constructively critiquing my analysis of markets. They are all wonderful role models and each pushed my thinking in new directions. I value their ongoing (p. xiv ) friendship. I would not have conceived this project were it not for the courses and workshops organized by Bob Keohane, whose own work on accountability has stimulated me greatly. I am also indebted to Duke’s Center for International Studies and its numerous graduate and faculty working groups. These helped spark my general interest in globalization and democracy.
Completion of this book was made possible through the generous research support of Haverford College’s Provost Office and Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. I also benefited from a Small Research Grant awarded by the American Political Science Association. I thank my Haverford colleagues for providing a stimulating and encouraging work environment as well as for their individual feedback on my work. Among others, this includes Cristina Beltrán, Harvey Glickman, Anita Isaacs, Steve McGovern, Barak Mendelsohn, Rob Mortimer, Sidney Waldman, and Susanna Wing. Over the years, my thinking on democratic accountability has also benefited from conversations with many of my students and research assistants. Adam Lewis, Nathan Vogel and Rachel Van Tosh deserve special acknowledgement for the editorial assistance and critical feedback they provided.
I am extraordinarily grateful for the confidence, patience, and encouragement offered by Angela Chnapko, my editor at Oxford. Without her persistent support, this book would not have been possible. I have presented various incarnations of my chapters at several conferences and colloquia. I thank those who have engaged my work in those settings. At various junctures, I have also benefited from the feedback of a variety of anonymous reviewers. I have tried to heed their advice as best I can. My work is greatly improved because of their labors. A version of chapter 1 appeared previously as “Accountability Debates: The Federalists, the Anti-Federalists, and Democratic Deficits,” The Journal of Politics 69 (4) (November 2007). Portions of chapter 6 will be published as “Disorienting Cosmopolitanism: Democratic Accountability and the Politics of Disruption” in a forthcoming issue of Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory.
Over the years, several close friends and family members have served as important interlocutors and aides in the writing process. Their contributions often came at crucial moments, sometimes unbeknownst to them. In this regard I am particularly indebted to Celeste Borowiak, Jason Lambacher, Christina Serkowski, Monika Mehta, Clare Talwalker, and Munis Faruqui. Significant portions of this book were written over summers and during a sabbatical year in Turkey. I am grateful to my brother-in-law Burak Uygun for allowing me to use his Istanbul apartment as my office. Surprisingly serene in an otherwise bustling neighborhood, it provided the perfect workspace. I am also grateful for the bustle of that fascinating city.
(p. xv ) My son, Ozan, has been a constant source of inspiration and welcome distraction. I am indebted to him for his patience. I hope one day he’ll understand why it is that I could not play when he wanted because “Daddy is working.” Finally, it is to my partner, Nilgün Uygun, that I owe the most. She has stuck with me steadfastly throughout this process. Scarcely a page has been written that has not, at one point or another, fallen under her critical eye. She has supplied the gravity that keeps me grounded, as well as the encouragement that keeps me going. My debts to her are immeasurable.
I am only too aware of the book’s imperfections. Without the feedback and support of these friends and colleagues, there would certainly have been far more. (p. xvi )