The politics of accountability

Thomas Schillemans*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


Democratic accountability is often understood as a non-political process. Through accountability, powerful politicians are made to answer to crucial democratic, administrative, legal, ethical and societal norms. At face value, accountability is an apolitical check on deeply political processes. While this assertion may have some truth to it, it misrepresents the nature of actual accountability institutions in politics and public administration. It glosses over the fact that the creation, activation and operation of accountability institutions are political processes and that individuals leading, working in and responding to those institutions show political behaviors and are often recruited amongst politicians. It is important to understand the political nature of accountability if we aim to truly understand how the many forms of accountability work. A proper appraisal of the politics of accountability can help to reach better understandings. This is all the more salient in a context of political polarization and the growing electoral appeal of authoritarian politics that puts the tension between politics and accountability in a harsher perspective. Against this background, this paper discusses the politics of i) accountability institutions themselves, ii) their creation, and iii) activation, as well as iv) the responses of power-holders to accountability.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook on the Politics of Public Administration
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781839109447
ISBN (Print)9781839109430
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2022


  • Accountability
  • Political behaviours
  • Reputation
  • Institutions
  • Political careers


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