Accounting as technical, social and moral practice for shaping a better world

Closes:

This Special Issue is concerned with accounting as a combined technical, social and moral practice with an overarching concern for shaping a better world from tomorrow, including by means of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other key mechanisms. According to Bebbington and Unerman (2020, p. 1657), “accounting scholars have been slow to engage in SDGs-motivated research”. This slow and concerning uptake has created two issues:  

First, accounting scholarship is less available to the web of knowledge that is being developed about how to enact the ambitions of the SDGs. Second, accounting scholarship is not developing in a way that incorporates SDGs-related challenges facing organizations (Bebbington and Unerman, 2020, p. 1657; also see Bebbington and Unerman, 2018; Powell and McGuigan, 2022). 

Drawing on extensive accounting literature in the sociological, interpretive and critical tradition since the early 1980s, Carnegie, Parker and Tsahuridu (2021) proposed accounting move to achieving its full potential by means of redefinition. They called for accounting to be broadly conceived and practised according to the following new definition, premised on the social and organisational contexts in which accounting operates: 

“Accounting is a technical, social and moral practice concerned with the sustainable utilisation of resources and proper accountability to stakeholders to enable the flourishing of organisations, people and nature” (2021, p. 69). 

This proposal presents accounting in substance as a multidimensional technical, social and moral practice rather than a mere neutral, benign, technical practice. What does this mean for the global accounting profession in expressly advancing the effective and widespread adoption of SDGs for the purpose of shaping a better world from tomorrow? 

This proposed definition of accounting may be applied using a framework of key questions (Carnegie, et al., 2021a): 

  • Technical practice: "How do we do accounting?". 

  • Social practice: "What does accounting do?”. (Impacts organisations, people and nature). 

  • Moral practice: "What should accounting do?" or "What should accounting not do?". 

This definition and framework of questions present an impetus to accounting’s future leadership in shaping SDGs-related challenges facing all of us, humans and non-humans alike. 

Accounting must be studied, regulated and evaluated in the contexts in which it operates. Whether changing or change resistant, accounting has consequences for human behaviour, for shaping the organizational culture, and has implications for organisational and social functioning and development.  Accounting conditions the way we think and what we do. The “we” are both professional accountants and non-accountants alike wherever located. 

Accounting is more influential in the world and in our lives than many people may think. A broader, clearer, more realistic and ‘game-changing’ definition of accounting, which portrays the discipline as an instrumental social and moral practice, as well as a technical practice, is a critical and decisive step to take (also see Carnegie, Ferri, Parker, Sidaway and Tsahuridu, 2022; Powell and McGuigan, 2022; Sidaway, Juric and Deegan, 2022; Twyford, 2022). 

This special issue aims to facilitate the focus of minds around the effects of accounting, whether intended or unintended; accounting may have narrow premises or roles or potentially concerning consequences for the world we pass on to our children and future generations. 

What papers are suitable for this special issue?  The formal advice is stated as follows: Reimagine accounting for its potential and not how you have been told, across time and space, it should be done. Ponder instead on what accounting is doing in the world and what accounting should be doing in helping to shape a better world, thereby enabling “the flourishing of organisations, people and nature” from tomorrow.  While this may be considered challenging, the world needs our commitment; accounting is paramount in this era of “calculative order”. 

Potential issues or topics to consider may include the following (listed alphabetically) among many others under this broad and exciting theme: 

  • Accountants’ considerable potential contribution to attaining the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a measure of shaping a better world 

  • Accounting for wellbeing, care, compassion and trust in organisations and society 

  • Ethics and purpose of accounting – there is a lot of ethics in accounting but not so much of accounting 

  • Financial reporting for effectively or ineffectively addressing the climate crisis 

  • Institutionalised ranking schemes or KPI-driven micro-measurement regimes and impacts on society 

  • Moving traditional mindsets to embrace non-financial schemas of valuation in the world 

  • Nurturing nature and nature nurturing us 

  • Organisational and individual responsibility and accountability avoidance – “not our problem” 

  • Rewiring accounting education for students’ understanding of the nature, roles, uses and impacts of accounting in the world 

  • Structure and leadership of the global accounting profession drawing upon national and regional accounting bodies for stimulating innovation and incentivising for difference.  

 

The guest editors are looking forward to discussing your ideas and thoughts: Garry Carnegie ([email protected]); Delfina Gomes ([email protected]); Karen McBride ([email protected]); Lee Parker ([email protected]) and Eva Tsahuridu ([email protected]). 

 

The last date for submission of papers for consideration for publication in this Meditari Accountancy Research Special is 15 February 2023. Publication of this issue is planned for the last quarter of 2024. 

 

References 

Bebbington, J. and Unerman, J. (2018), “Achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: an enabling role for accounting research”, Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 2-24, available at: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/AAAJ-05-2017-2929/full/html   

Bebbington, J. and Unerman, J. (2020), “Advancing research into accounting and the UN Sustainable Development Goals”, Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 33 No. 7, pp. 1657-1670, available at: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/AAAJ-05-2020-4556/full/html 

Carnegie, G., Parker, L. and Tsahuridu, E. (2021a), “It’s 2020: what is accounting today?”, Australian Accounting Review, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 65-73, available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/auar.12325 

Carnegie, G.D, Ferri, P., Parker, L.D., Sidaway, S.I.L. and Tsahuridu, E.E. (2022a), “Accounting as technical, social and moral practice: the monetary valuation of public cultural, heritage and scientific collections in financial reports”, Australian Accounting Review, 5 April, available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/auar.12371 

Powell, L. and McGuigan, N. (2022), “Responding to crises: rewilding accounting education for the Anthropocene”, Meditari Accountancy Research, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print, available at: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/MEDAR-06-2021-1333/full/html 

Twyford, E.J. (2022), “Crisis accountability and aged ‘care’ during COVID-19”, Meditari Accountancy Research, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print, available at: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/MEDAR-05-2021-1296/full/html 

Sidaway, S.I.L., Juric, D. and Deegan, C. (2022), “Teaching the concept of decision-usefulness, and accounting as a technical, social and moral practice: the case of COVID-19 ‘case number’ reporting”, Meditari Accountancy Research, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print, available at: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/MEDAR-06-2021-1329/full/html 

United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Department of Environment and Social Affairs, available at: THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development (un.org)