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Democratic Accountability, Political Order, and ChangeExploring Accountability Processes in an Era of European Transformation$
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Johan P. Olsen

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198800606

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198800606.001.0001

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Ambiguity and the Politics of Accountability

Ambiguity and the Politics of Accountability

(p.74) 4 Ambiguity and the Politics of Accountability
Democratic Accountability, Political Order, and Change

Johan P. Olsen

Oxford University Press

In mainstream principal–agent approaches, as well as in much democratic theory and organization theory, accountability is linked to a belief in human agency and history determined by human will, causal understanding, and control. An institutional approach considers the possibility that events are not necessarily a product of the deliberate choices of identifiable actors, and takes into account that ambiguity, uncertainty, and limited control are inherent to political and organizational decision making. The fluidity and unresolved conflicts of political life make it difficult to conclude who is responsible and should be held to account and learn from experience and there is more to accountability processes than decision making, control, and compliance. Ambiguity and uncertainty about the past—what has happened, why, and who is responsible and should be held to account—open the way for the politics of accountability, involving sense-making processes, competing interpretations, and coping with conflict.

Keywords:   ambiguity, autonomy, decision making, political agency, politics of accountability, power, rational adaptation, resources, sense making

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