Article | American Behavioral Scientist | 2009

Placing the Normative Logics of Accountability in 'Thick' Perspective

by Alnoor Ebrahim

Abstract

This article provides a critical reflection on the heavily normative nature of current accountability debates. In particular, it explores three streams of normative discourse on nonprofit accountability: improving board governance, improving performance-based reporting, and demonstrating progress toward mission. The article describes how these logics are associated with three basic accountability regimes: coercive, technocratic, and adaptive. It then discusses how a focus on these normative logics and regimes, although important, can mask the realities of social structure and the relations of power that underlie them. The article proposes a more empirical approach to framing accountability—"thick description"—that might enable scholars to better understand how social regimes of accountability actually operate in different contexts and in which the instruments of accountability are at least as likely to reproduce relationships of inequality as they are to overturn them.

Keywords: Fair Value Accounting; Accounting; Governance; Performance Evaluation; Governing Rules, Regulations, and Reforms; Goals and Objectives; Management Practices and Processes; Power and Influence; Social and Collaborative Networks; Organizational Structure; Relationships; Accounting Industry;

Citation:

Ebrahim, Alnoor. "Placing the Normative Logics of Accountability in 'Thick' Perspective." American Behavioral Scientist 52, no. 6 (2009): 885–904.