No-one is perfect: the limits of transparency and an ethic for ‘intelligent’ accountability

John Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

296 Citations (Scopus)


This paper draws on the work of Butler [Butler, J. (2005). Giving an account of oneself. New York: Fordham University Press] to develop a critique of the operation and adequacy of transparency as a form of accountability. The paper begins with an exploration of accountability as subjection explored through Lacan’s account of the social dynamics of recognition, and Freud’s account of guilt. This analysis then informs an exploration of what is argued to be our typically ambivalent embrace of transparency as a form of accountability. The final section of the paper investigates the potential for a more ‘intelligent’ form of accountability, grounded in an ethic of humility and generosity, made possible by a conscious acknowledgement of the ways in which I can never quite know what it is that I am doing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)957-970
Number of pages14
JournalAccounting, Organizations and Society
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009


  • accountability
  • intelligent accountability
  • accounting ethics

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