Ethnographies of Accountability

Call for papers for: Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

Guest editors:

Carolyn J Cordery, Aston Business School, Aston University, U.K, [email protected]  .
Ivo De Loo, Nyenrode Business University, The Netherlands, [email protected] 
Hugo Letiche, Institut Mines: Télécom Business School Evry, France; School of Business, Leicester University, U.K, [email protected]

Submission Deadlines: 

Background to the AAAJ special issue
Boundaries are just as unavoidable as they are problematic. A person, organisation or society can only exist if it sets and maintains boundaries to demarcate itself from others; the difference and communication between an ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ are essential to their lives (Shore and Nugent, 2002). If boundaries are too strict one dies for lack of sustenance and suffocates socially and psychologically in isolation; but if they are also open, one disintegrates in chaos. Through this AAAJ Special Issue, we seek research on ethnographies of ‘boundary-making and breaking’ with emphasis on the ethics of the accountability involved (see also Roberts, 2012, 2018; Strathern, 2000). Attention to the (potential) violence of boundary-setting is welcome as are experiential studies and autoethnographic work.
Organisation inherently entails boundary setting, preserving, guarding and utilising (Hazgui and Gendron, 2015). Organisational, material and social boundaries do not just come into being. They are created through processes of boundary-ing and operate at different aggregation levels: for instance, at the personal and organisational level, within regulatory space, and also at the object or environmental level (Shore and Nugent, 2002). 
Thompson (2007) asserts that boundaries are unavoidable to build a life and to keep on living. For instance, food and air go in through boundaries (e.g., in the case of individuals), and wastes and communication come out. If boundaries are always all in flux or if they are too rigid (and hence, not in flux at all) life itself is threatened. Boundaries are inherent to our existence, as well as accounting’s construction of the entity concept. Indeed, Llewellyn (1994) suggests that as boundary maintenance increases, so too does accounting.
Boundaries invoke processes of inclusiveness and exclusiveness; they constitute an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’(Stewart, 1996). For instance, when you find yourself on one side of a particular boundary, it may be claimed that you are a citizen of country ‘A’ rather than country ‘B’. Or that you live in deprived conditions or not; that you stem from the same family or belong the same social group, or not. Historically, paternalistic charitable support (such as workhouses) highlighted the boundaries between ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ classes. And universities are where someone who is granted access and is privy to knowledge and a degree, are 'insiders'; while others, who remain, outsiders, are not. Thus, as Kartalis et al. (2016) highlight, boundaries allow those with power to perpetuate a social order and prioritise their accountability demands. 

How boundaries are set, maintained, and broken-down demands to be debated. Serres (1991) claims that the creation of boundaries involves violence and creates guilt. To set a boundary means shielding oneself off from somebody else (see also Levinas, 1969), which in essence is a violent act. It consequently becomes difficult to reach out to the other (see Zizek, 1989). However, total inclusion produces a total loss of identity and individual aliveness.  Setting a boundary permits one to organise one’s own life (together with others behind the boundary) in a certain way. But the boundary subsequently functions, negating those excluded. 

Within and outside of the boundaries of an organisation, there is a need for accountability. Accountability is an explication of how we give life to individuals, groups and societies via the operation of boundaries (Munro & Mouritsen, 1996; Roberts, 2018).  Accountability is demanded from us, as well, for the actions of others within and outside of our boundaries. Such expressions of accountability mostly involve living beings (Roberts and Scapens, 1985), but they also extend to physical objects (Serres, 1991), time, and financial transactions (Llewellyn, 1994). For example, Miles and Ringham (2019, p. 357) note that “sustainability reporting fails to discharge accountability due to adoption of narrow ‘Reputation Management’ boundaries”. How do we communicate accounts that involve or pertain to boundaries, as we engage in acts of accountability? How does language (which entails the setting and reification of boundaries) complicate the calling and giving of accounts (see also Bahktin, 1986; Strathern, 2000)? Accountability affects (human) relationships in ways that may hinder or spur on the responsibility people have towards each other (Chwastiak, 2001, 2006). Therein lies an inherent responsibility for us to thoroughly reflect on how accounts are made and passed on to others (Letiche and Lightfoot, 2014; Roberts, 2012). 

We invite research, in the form of ethnographic studies of accountability, focusing in particular on the ethics of boundaries and of boundary-ing inside and outside of organisations (O’Doherty, 2017; Guillion, 2018; Moriceau & Soparnot, 2019; Ingold, 2018; Clough, 1998). We look to research examining the behaviour of individuals in specific situations that involve boundary setting, rejection and dissemination; research including the author’s ethical interpretations of the setting of and functioning of boundaries.

Interesting topics for the papers include but are not limited to the following issues:

  • Which accountability tensions are created when an organisation fractionates into multiple entities, particularly to meet (or to evade) regulation?
  • What processes of equality and equity can be witnessed when businesses are started or are deteriorating/closing down?
  • How does one structure their (working) life when one is wittingly subjected, or subjects oneself, to an audit culture?
  • What are the effects of colonialism on (the making and/or reporting of) accountability reports?
  • When people threaten the status quo in a particular situation or organisation, how are they treated? What are forms of accountability than at risk?
  • What happens when boundaries are (increasingly) policed or monitored in attempts to reduce accountability and/or to increase transparency?
  • How are discrepancies in reporting handled in particular situations? Whose views, framed in what ways, come to matter the most? What are the effects hereof?
  • What happens to health care organisations and those providing health care when those who are on the receiving end of the care do not ‘behave’?
  • What happens when professions (that were once held in high regard) start to break down (e.g. the police, accountants, academe)?
  • What if commonly held (religious, political, social) beliefs about the positive acknowledgment of others are challenged? How does this relate to violence?
  • What if your own body is your enemy? How does this affect one’s discourse of accountability?

Bahktin, M.M. (1986). Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Chwastiak, M. (2001). Taming the untamable. Accounting Organisations & Society, 26(6), pp. 501-519.
Chwastiak, M.    (2006). Rationality, performance measures and reality. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 17(1), pp. 29-55.
Clough, P. (1998) The End(s) of Ethnography New York: Peter Lang.
Guillion, J. (2018). Diffractive Ethnography. London: Routledge. 
Hazgui, M., & Gendron, Y. (2015). Blurred roles and elusive boundaries: On contemporary forms of oversight surrounding professional work. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 28(8), 1234–1262.
Ingold, T. (2018) Anthropology Why it Matters London: Polity.  
Kartalis, N., Tsamenyi, M., & Jayasinghe, K. (2016). Accounting in new public management (NPM) and shifting organisational boundaries: Evidence from the Greek Show Caves. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 29(2), 248–277. 
Llewellyn, S. (1994). Managing the Boundary How Accounting Is Implicated in Maintaining the Organization. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 7(4), 4–23.
Latour, B. (2018). Down to Earth. London: Polity. 
Letiche H., Lightfoot, G. (2014). Relevant PhD. Rotterdam: Sense
Levinas, E. (1969). Totality and Infinity. Pittsburg: Dusquesne University Press. 
Miles, S., & Ringham, K. (2019). The boundary of sustainability reporting: evidence from the FTSE100. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 33(2), 357–390. 
Moriceau J-L., Soparnot, R. (2019). Recherche qualitative. Caen: EMS. 
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O’Doherty, D. (2017). Reconstructing Organization. London: Palgrave. 
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Roberts, J. (2012). Agency without Agents: Exploring the Relationship between Identity and Ethics. In: Case, P., Hopfl, H. and Letiche, H. (Eds.), Belief and Organization, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 144-162.
(2018). Accountability. In: Roslender, R. (Ed.), The Routledge Companion to Critical Accounting, London: Routledge, 225-239.
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Serres, M. (1991). Rome. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press.
Shore, C. and Nugent, S. (2002). Elite Cultures: Anthropological Perspectives. London: Routledge.
Strathern, M. (2000). Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics and the Academy. London: Routledge.
Stewart, K (1996) A Space on the side of the road Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Thompson, E. (2007). Mind in Life. Cambridge MA: Belkanp. 
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Zizek, S. (1989). The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso.