In place, with power: (Re)conceptualising accountability in national non-government organisations

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This paper analyses how a cross-section of non-government organisations (NGOs) in Australia interpret accountability under a neoliberal regime that combines the ‘soft’ power of markets with the ‘hard’ power of a new regulator. We focus on national NGOs, defined as NGOs whose primary services, beneficiaries and funders are co-located within one nation-state. National NGOs increasingly deliver core public services, but accountability in these organisations is understudied. Our paper addresses two questions: (i) What, if anything, is distinctive about how national NGOs interpret accountability; and (ii) How does the neoliberal mix of market and regulatory power affect accountability so defined? We conduct a hermeneutic analysis of 23 in-depth interviews and 80 consultation documents from national NGO Directors, CEOs and regulators. Our findings demonstrate initially the distinctive significance in national NGO accountability of what human geographers term place: Localised connections between people and socio-spatial context that persist even – arguably, especially, as neoliberalism diffuses accountability to national markets and/or standards. We also show how the effects of regulatory power on national NGO accountability are Janus-faced, largely because national NGOs are both subjects and agents of this power. This finding problematises prior research that polarises between viewing NGOs as either beneficiaries or passive subjects of regulatory power. We interpret the effects of regulatory power on national NGO accountability as more ambiguous, being dependent on both local contours of ‘place’ and how these NGOs assimilate regulatory power into their often-idiosyncratic assemblages of beliefs, norms and governance.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102536
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalCritical Perspectives on Accounting
Early online date7 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • Accountability
  • Hermeneutics
  • Non-government organisations
  • Transparency


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