The Institutional Basis of Democratic Accountability

Johan P. Olsen has published the article 'The Institutional Basis of Democratic Accountability' in West European Politics.


This article offers an institutional approach to accountability in representative democracies. Theorising accountability comprises both settled polities with well-entrenched institutions and unsettled polities with weak or contested institutions, and it is argued that agency theory and formal principal–agent models giving priority to compliance and control usually make assumptions that are unlikely to apply to the latter type of polity.

An institutional approach challenges principal–agent assumptions regarding what accountability means and implies, what is involved in demanding, rendering, assessing and responding to accounts and assigning accountability, and how accountability institutions work and change. Accountability is related to fundamental issues in democratic politics and the paper treats distributions of information, normative standards of assessment, authority and power relations as endogenous to democratic politics.

The paper also holds that institutions affect actors’ identities and roles through socialisation, internalisation and habitualisation, as well as through external incentives. An aspiration is to take a modest step towards understanding areas of application for competing approaches to democratic accountability.

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The Institutional Basis of Democratic Accountability
Johan P. Olsen

West European Politics, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 447-473
DOI: 10.1080/01402382.2012.753704

Published Jan. 28, 2013 9:56 AM - Last modified Dec. 11, 2013 12:24 PM