About Challenging Power

Arguing that we only have democracy when systems of power are held to account, Kaufman examines the real work being done to challenge the operations of power that underlie four unruly social problems: climate change, sweatshop labor, police abuse, and economic deprivation.

In Challenging Power, Kaufman pairs each of these issues with an operation of power — the large scale influence of multinational corporations; the power of governments; the authority of financial markets; and the control inherent in systems of meaning — and using case studies like the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh and the killing of Eric Garner, forcefully demonstrates what is involved in challenging these operations of power.

Advancing a positive message, Kaufman maintains that these networks are not omnipotent and can be challenged if we develop ‘mechanisms of accountability’ which allow us to conceptualize the nature of these problems and the actions required to resist them. Kaufman provides then, a model for ethical action that allows us to investigate and appreciate our own connections to the powerful forces that control our world.

Table of contents

1. States of Irresponsibility: Rana Plaza, Accountability, and Power
2. The Ethics of Accountability Democracy
3. The Politics of Accountability Democracy
4. The Powers that need to be held to Account
5. Accountability
6. Developing Effective Accountability Mechanisms
7. Building Accountability Democracy
8. Acting Well in a Traumatized World


“Everyone with a conscience should read Holding Power to Account. In this short book, Cynthia Kaufman provides both an ethics and a politics for today’s interdependent world. To live a responsible life, we must work together to create systems of “accountability democracy” to constrain those with economic and political power.” –  Fred Block, Research Professor of Sociology, University of California at Davis, USA

“This book highlights democracy’s struggle to adapt its mechanisms of accountability to the increasing complexity of power in the modern world. Its focus on holding power to account is particularly fruitful in a time of growing executive power, outsourced services, tax havens and defunct complaints procedures. The book provides a sparkling conceptual clarification of accountability and then explores practical and effective mechanisms for use by NGO’s, campaigning organizations and political parties.” –  Ricardo Blaug, Associate Professor of Democracy and Political Theory, University of Westminster, UK