Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore how accountability practices can enable sociopolitical emancipation. Design/methodology/approach – The authors explore the emancipatory potential of accountability from a Bourdieusian perspective. The study is informed by a two-month socio-ethnographic study of the participatory budgeting (PB) process in Porto Alegre (Brazil). The field study enabled us to observe accountability and participatory practices, conduct 18 semi-structured interviews with councillors, and analyze survey data gathered from budgeting participants. Findings – The paper demonstrates how PB both strengthened the dominants in the Porto Alegrense political field and changed the game played in this field; was characterized by accountability practices favouring the election of councillors with distinctive capitals, who were “dominated-dominants dominating the dominated”; brought emancipatory perspectives to councillors and, by doing so, opened the path to social change but also widened the gap with ordinary participants. Research limitations/implications – The research supports Shenkin and Coulson’s (2007) thesis by demonstrating that accountability, when associated with participative democracy, can create substantial social change. Significantly, by investigating the emancipatory potential of accountability, the authors challenge the often taken-for-granted assumption in critical research that accountability reinforces asymmetrical power relations, and the authors explore alternative accountability practices. Doing so enables us to rethink the possibilities of accountability and their practical implications. Originality/value – The authors study the most emblematic example of participatory democracy in South America; and the authors use Bourdieu’s theoretical framework to approach accountability at a community level.

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Cuenca, L, & Célérier, L. (2015). Participatory Budgeting at a Community Level in Porto Alegre: A Bourdieusian Interpretation. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 28(5), 739–772. doi:10.1108/AAAJ-03-2013-1245