The (re-)construction of accountability, discursive space, Habitus, and reflexivity [thesis]

Mark Shenkin
2005
The thesis explores 'discourses' on accountability and their congruence with current debates on corporate social responsibility. It draws attention to how the formal accounting discourse on accountability privileges the merits of a 'plural liberal ' approach, and how this undermines what is to be done to establish democratic relations between corporations and their 'stakeholders'. The liberal discourse is interpreted as that concerned with the 'administration' of communicative practices in
more » ... tutionalised rules and procedures. It is argued that liberals impose boundary conditions on accountability in which communication is linked to an 'information processing' methodology. This prompts accountability to be analysed in terms of informed decision-making in economic markets or formal regulatory contexts. Responding to this, the thesis draws attention to the manner in which accountability has been analysed as a lived 'organic' practice, relying more on 'sense making' than information. processing behaviour. Links are established between a sense making approach and a 'radical' (post-liberal) approach to engagement and 'praxis'. A definition of praxis is drawn by exploring in depth the foundations of Pierre Bourdieu's critical sociology. Particular emphasis is placed on the dynamic Bourdieu hypothesises between the 'field' and the 'habitus', and his idea that changes in the discursive space can be prompted by and prompt changes in a social, cultural, or political habitus. Bourdieu's work is compared to other related theories of 'reflexive' changein particular those of Beck, Giddens, and Lashand related to Lash's distinction between cognitive, aesthetic, and hermeneutic reflexivity. Together, these theorists provide a framing mechanisms for analysing accountability in terms of institutional 'adaptation', 'cross-control' amongst experts, and 'community participation', and evaluating the extent to which different forms of communication sustain emergent social movements. These ideas are applied to the communicative practices associated with accountability, and used to inform the idea that non-administered communicative forms could facilitate the transfer of peripheral discourses to the centre of the political space. 'mystification-demystification' (critical hermeneutic) cycle. It is argued that the 'institutionalism' of Giddens's model reinforces the role of expert systems in the relation between political action and social institutions. On the other hand, Bourdieu's model for 'demystification' resembles the basis of a non-administered, and non-institutionalised critique, which it is argued could assist in the construction of a new 'politics of praxis' in accountability research (see Tinker & Gray, 2003) . 9 In conclusion, the chapter reflects on these ideas in the context of recent developments in the area of social audit, and the 'alternative' practices of 'silent' and 'shadow' accounting (see Dey, 2003 , Everett, 2003, and Owen et. at., 2000). These alternatives to the conventional liberal approach towards the enhancement of accountability are evaluated in line with the framework informed by Bourdieu, where reflexive change demands alternative practices that operate somewhat independent of their targets (see Bourdieu, 1990a, p. 135). Chapter 5 draws attention to the various programmes of social resistance theorised by critical sociologists and used to aid the construction of new discourse on reflexive social change. The integrated work of several critical sociologists is incorporated into the thesis and used to reflect on a social and political space characterised by 'self-adaptive' relations between institutional and non-institutional agents. 1° Using Beck's theory (and the similarities between Beck and Giddens) as a baseline for examining reflexive processes, the chapter evaluates the extent to which accountability can be applied in a manner that ensures it evades being 'captured' by expertise. It is argued that Beck informs the idea that new forms of accountability emerge following atomisation, when individuals take measures to reconstruct their own biographies and re-enact their life-narratives. " These reconstructions and re-enactments apparently occur through new forms of social intervention, where new communicative modes are used to direct purposive action. 12 Expanding on this idea, the chapter explores Lash's contribution to the debate on 'reflexive modernisation'. 13 This draws 9 Bourdieu's framing concepts of field and habitus, and the implicitly reflexive relationship he constructs between the two, are used to inform a new way of thinking about critique as a transformative object. It will be argued that Bourdieu interprets reflexive critique as contributing to new ways of seeing and doing in the political space, which subsequently bringing change at the level of discourse. 10 This draws on contemporary theorists of reflexive modernisation (see Beck 1992a , 1992b , Giddens 1990 , and Lash 1993a) . Particular attention will be directed at the ideas communicated through Beck's (1992a) metaphor of a 'risk society', in which the political space apparently consists of 'informed' individuals who create powerful means to evaluate expert knowledge. These conditions will be incorporated into previous debates on accountability, and related to the practice of 'epistemological scepticism'. tt Atomisation refers to the breakdown of traditional social structures, the withdrawal of the state, and the creation of a (ostensibly) autonomous individual agent. Atomisation follows the 'neo-liberal' doctrine of freedom, which is discussed in more detail in Ch. 3. 12 Here, new forms of counter-expert knowledge accumulate around the peripheries of social fields, and innovative techniques allow this knowledge to augment social capital. This creates new epistemological ground in which to negotiate embedded contracts and reform institutionalised procedures. 13 The social order Lash (1993) outlines in 'Reflexive Modernisation -The Aesthetic Dimension' (1993a), and with Urry (1994) in their'Economies of Sign and Space', is in fact a society characterised mostly by'disorder '. Lash (1993) argues that Beck (like Giddens) only theorises a particular strand of reflexive cognition: where critique is by the universal and of the particular. Thus, Beck apparently does not account for the fact that while traditional institutions may recede in the wake of atomisation, they are replaced with quasi-autonomous, yet still fully administered, information structures.
doi:10.48730/z1rj-7108 fatcat:4o3yavpmfzhlfnrvi6uch2ittq