Accountability is often associated with liability; Tenhave (2002) notes it is closer to “intelligibility or explainability, in the sense that actors are supposed to design their actions in such a way that their sense is clear right away or at least explicable on demand”. The term implies that the basic requirement for all social settings is that “they may be recognizable or accountable as whatever social setting they are supposed to be”, Tenhave (2002) members knowingly and visibly work at making their scenes accountable, and in turn this organizes the situation and renders it real and meaningful. Overall accountability is the concept of other people taking responsibility for their own actions.
Garfinkel wrote in his studies on Ethnomethodology, studies that analyse the everyday activities of individuals as members, is the methods that make those activities “visibly-rational–and–reportable–for–all–practical-purposes, i.e., ‘accountable’, as organisations of common place everyday activities”. Noted by Colhoun (1995, p. 23) Coulon (1995, p.23) referred to Garfinkel who came up with four examples of accountability, including “the study of the Suicide Prevention Center (SPC) in Los Angeles, the case of Agnes, the discovery of the optical pulsar, and an ordinary conversation reported and analyzed in studies”.
Alain Coulon refers to Garfinkel; Coulon focuses first on the activities of the SPC. This center deals with cases of unnatural death, the center makes inquires, and then is requested by a judge to see whether the death of the individual was due to suicide or another unknown cause. From this study, Coulon (1995, p. 24) referred to Quéré (1984) who commented on Garfinkel’s recommendations that conclude and indicate some “recommendations that constitute an important methodological element in ethnomethodology research”. Quéré noted that there are two levels of analysis: there is the level of the self – organization of the SPC and there are accounts, meaning the representation or the responsibility of the other.
Coulon (1995, p. 24) quoted, Quéré, (1984, p.104) To begin with the SPC organizes itself practically as an objective reality, and ordered “with a finality, with rationality and coherence…” this self- organization is expressed by the material arrangements of the organization, by the division of labor that is involved, the “definition of inquiry processes of constitution and revision of files, of processes of archiving, by the accumulation of resources”. Next, at the second level, the organization is able to build itself up through the ability to be able to investigate, this accounts in which it is represented as being an objective reality, by this it is “given an identity, finality and a structure of order”.
Ethnomethodologist aim to define accountability as well as theorize the concept, to see and tell them ways in which the accounts are structuring or informing the situation. For example, how does one individual take the responsibility of an advertisement that is aimed at a certain demographic but can be harmful to another, and how is it informing to the audience if it is at all.
Another study which was proposed by Quéré is the story about Agnes. Garfinkel had a lot of time to interview Agnes, who had chosen to become a woman. Garfinkel here, shows how Agnes has to become a woman, how she must exhibit the routines, activities of a “normal woman”. Although we are born with either a female or male body, we have to culturally become either a girl or a boy, and at the same time we have to take on and exhibit masculine or feminine attitudes, and become a character of either one or the other. Colhoun(1995, p. 25) noted that Garfinkel argues “accountability is this “exhibition” of a sexual personality in daily activities and conduct” It is something as being renewed, and is lived as natural, Agnes had to keep checking her presentation, her appearance, herself to be seen, and to appear as the “real thing”.
When we say the social world is accountable, this means that it is intelligible, reportable, analyzable and describable. Members within the social world are constantly basing assumptions by ones appearance. Overall when we look at accountability as a concept, we see it as the way individuals see how they take responsibilities for their own actions. For example a business person in charge of a major business corporation will have many responsibilities to keep the business running, if something goes wrong, such as a loss of profits due to employers not working hard enough and lacking in productivity, the business person will have full responsibility.
Coulon, A. 1995. Ethnomethodology. California, CA: United States. Sage Publications.
Tenhave, Paul. 2002. “The Notion of Member is the Heart of the Matter: On the Role of Membership Knowledge in Ethnomethodology Inquiry”. Qualitative Social Research. 3 (3). Retrieved November 21 2012. http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/834/1812#g31