Book chapter

Accountability and Blame Avoidance After Crises (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

The post-crisis accountability process is a purification ritual that serves to channel public emotions and enables re-equilibration after a severe disturbance of the sociopolitical order. Crisis accountability literature can be reviewed in terms of forums, actors, and consequences. This setup allows a systematic discussion of how crises impact: the accountability process in influencing its setting (the forum); the strategies of accountees and their opponents (actors); and the resulting outcomes in terms of reputation damage, sanctions, and restoration (consequences). There is a clear distinction between formal and informal accountability forums, with the media being almost exclusively informal, and judicial forums, accident investigators, and political inquiries having formal authority over accountability assessments. Yet, through the presence of formal authorities in media reporting, and because media frames influence the work of formal authorities, the different forums intensively interact in accountability processes. Looking at accountability strategies reveals that the number of actors involved in blame games is likely rising because of increasingly networked crisis responses, and the role of actors has become more important and personal in the crisis aftermath and accountability process. The consequences and success of individual actors in influencing the accountability outcomes is shaped by both institutional settings and individual skills and strategies. A current political power position that exceeds prior mistakes is an effective shield, and denial is the least effective though most commonly used strategy. Accountability processes remain a balancing act between rebuttal and repair. Yet after major crisis, renewal is possible, and post-crisis accountability can play a crucial role therein.