The Impunity of Private Authority

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The Impunity of Private Authority

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Title: The Impunity of Private Authority
Understanding PSC Accountability
Author: Leander, Anna
Abstract: In security, as in other areas, the emergence of transnational private organizations with a central role in governance poses profound challenges to established conceptions of international politics and democracy. This paper discusses one side of this challenge by looking at accountability of private security companies (PSCs). PSCs have become authorities in their own right in the security sphere. This has raised the question of their accountability and also resulted in considerable efforts to improve the accountability of the firms. This paper looks at why these efforts bear so little fruit. It begins by pointing to the tension involved in any effort to hold an authority (private or public) accountable, namely the tension between the centrality of acceptance for authority and accountability measures that necessarily involve contestation. It then proceeds to analyse this tension in the case of PSCs. The paper argues that PSCs’ status as experts on risk and entrepreneurs of security mobilizes a favourable bias, making contestation less likely. The difficulty of seeing and/or admitting that PSCs are independent actors in turn makes contestation of their activities seem ill-directed and unnecessary. The point made in this paper that this, rather than sheer complexity or hidden political agendas, is key for understanding the present rather puzzling lack of (democratic) accountability of PSCs and its likely continuation.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10398/6985
Date: 2007-05-16
Notes: Presented at the International Studies Association Conference Chicago, 28 February – 3 March 2007

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