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Social housing and accountability: towards a framework for analysing critical public accountability

Smyth, Stewart (2013) Social housing and accountability: towards a framework for analysing critical public accountability. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis explores the manner in which accountability relations are made, re-made and exercised in a British public service. Developing a framework that captures these processes and lays the foundations for further application to other public services is the aim of this thesis. The focus of the study is the privatisation of council housing through large-scale voluntary transfers (LSVTs). Council housing is a service that has democratic accountability relations at its heart via directly elected municipal representatives. Over the past three decades the neoliberalisation of this public service has reformed these accountability relations; moving them to corporate governance-styled accountability, in not-for-profit private limited companies. This process has generated a reaction in the form of civil society campaigns that contest the transfers. The outcome is either to reproduce the existing democratic accountability relations or transform them to privatised corporate governance-styled accountability. The thesis develops a theoretical framework rooted in the classical Marxist tradition and extended to include a critical realist theory of science and a materialist dialogical theory of language. The framework is applied to three comparative case studies in the search for generative mechanisms and the context they operate in. The case studies are developed using data from documentary sources, interviews, secondary statistics and observation. The main contribution to knowledge is an integrated two triadic research framework (of, Neoliberalisation – Reaction/Contestation – Reproductions or Transformation; and a dynamic relationship between the state and civil society)for analysing changes in public accountability relations. There is also a second empirically-based contribution relevant to the accounting literature, with the focus on the actions of tenants and other civil society actors in making, re-making and exercising accountability relations. Both these contributions can be seen as staging-posts on the way to developing a theory of Critical Public Accountability.

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