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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Character and accountbility...

OK -- some abstract stuff...

In recent work I have been tying to articulate a view of accountability that situates it in a context of freedom rather than control. Increasingly I find myself relying on Philip Pettit's view of the free agent as one who is deemed fit to be held responsible for its choices and actions -- a view that I am convinced directly links our preoccupation with accountability in systems of modern governance.

The development of modern forms of governance -- public and corporate -- was in response to the emergence of the self-aware autonomous agent as a subject of rule. The historical narrative I offer in my work features the establishment of Anglo-Norman rule in the 11th and 12th centuries, but the same logic can be seen in other narratives that root themselves in other times and places (e.g., James Scott, Seeing Like a State). Rendering that self-aware autonomous agent "governable" was central to the development of modern governance in all its various forms, and the key to long-term success in those endeavors was the creation of forms of accountability -- not in the sense of control (which is the contemporary, distorted view of accountability), but rather in the sense of developing institutions of "freedom" where those "deemed fit to be held responsible" could and would flourish.

I bring this up because I just completed Sennett's The Corrosion of Character which can be read as reinforcing this perspective -- or perhaps I have gotten to the point where I interpret everything I read in light of my own "theory" of accountable governance. Written for readability (in short, for a more general audience rather than merely academics), the book takes a bit before finally making its strong case for the important (and challenged) role of character in the New Economy. The last two chapters are the strongest statement of Sennett's views, and they will make for interesting exchanges when I assign this book for my summer course on organizational behavior....

Now I turn to the second book in Sennett's trilogy -- Respect in an World of Inequality. So more thought to come...

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