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What NGO Accountability Means - and Does Not Mean (Review Essay)


Kenneth Anderson


American University - Washington College of Law; Stanford University - The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace; Brookings Institution - Governance Studies


American Journal of International Law, Vol. 103, No. 1, pp. 170-178, January 2009
American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2009-18

Abstract:     
This essay offers a review (4000 words) of "NGO Accountability: Politics, Principles and Innovations," Lisa Jordan and Peter van Tuijl, eds. (London: Earthscan 2006); following AJIL permission, it is given in unedited form and is available in final form in 103 AJIL 1 (January 2009).

International and transnational NGOs have been under criticism for alleged lack of accountability since they emerged into prominence in the 1990s. In recent years, the debate over NGOs has shifted from legitimacy and "representativeness" to accountability in the narrower senses of internal governance, fiduciary responsibility, relationships with national governmental authorities, and similar issues. The volume under review seeks to cover both aspects of the debate, with emphasis on the latter, narrower issues. The review essay argues that the debate over representativeness and legitimacy - accountability in the large sense - cannot be left aside, but continues to be present, if only because the incentives that led NGOs to claim to represent the 'peoples of the world' in the first place have not gone away but have instead merely been submerged under critical pressure. The review essay argues that the question of NGO accountability as a matter of claims to governance remain salient, because global civil society still seeks a role in global governance in a way that relies upon claims of representativeness and that is not satisfied by narrower mechanisms by which NGOs make themselves accountable for other, narrower purposes, such as internal corporate governance or fiduciary accountability for charitable assets.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 13

Keywords: Global governance, accountability, nongovernmental organizations, NGO, democratic accountability, global civil society,

JEL Classification: K33

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Date posted: April 6, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Kenneth, What NGO Accountability Means - and Does Not Mean (Review Essay). American Journal of International Law, Vol. 103, No. 1, pp. 170-178, January 2009; American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2009-18. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1373487

Contact Information

Kenneth Anderson (Contact Author)
American University - Washington College of Law ( email )
4801 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20016
United States
Stanford University - The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace
Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States
Brookings Institution - Governance Studies
1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States
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