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Much of mainstream accounting and finance research is rooted in a neoliberal ideology that prioritises the pursuit of individualistic self-interests and wealth maximisation. The overly simplistic nature of this ideology enables a ‘calculative rationale’, whereby the production of financial information in reports and associated guidance is understood as an objective endeavour. From this perspective, accountants are often seen to play a passive role in the production of financial information regarding organisations. However, this relationship can be seen in a different way, one in which accountants enable the actions of organisations by rendering them financially rational. It is here in the enabling function of accounting that a sense of morality must be brought into the accounting profession, with those positioned within it being called to revaluate their role in sustaining the remnants of a naive push for neoliberalism.
Mainstream accounting professionals often fail to acknowledge this role and the subjectivities underpinning their decision making, instead aligning themselves with third-way approaches that seek ‘win-win’ solutions to complex challenges. Such efforts can be seen in the push behind the global reporting initiative, integrated reporting and the sustainability accounting standards board. Ultimately, these solutions reinforce existing norms and institutions, but one only needs to look around at mounting social unrest, expanding income inequality and ecological collapse, to understand the urgent need for change.
So what does accounting have to do with all these issues? Recognising the enabling role of accounting within the global economy may identify the issue, but the knowledge gained in doing so can emancipate accountants from prioritising business interests and enable their capacity to represent alternative perspectives via financial information. Accountants will by no means save the world by themselves, but they can play a part in collective efforts. Furthermore, in doing so, the accounting profession is forced to operate beyond its more traditional boundaries, to incorporate interdisciplinary insights from across the wider social sciences.
Moving beyond debating alternative futures, there is an urgent need to recognise the change needed for humanity to be classified as a going concern. Based on the accounting profession’s experience in representing organisational realities, and developing financial systems and processes through which change can be realised within organisations, there is reason to believe that accounting can be reconstituted to enable more positive and socially progressive forms of representation and change. Here in lies the intersection at which this special issue of AFGR is located, calling for contributions that explore ways in which accounting can contribute to, and facilitate, such change.
Lorna Stevenson, School of Management, University of St Andrews, Scotland; firstname.lastname@example.org
Martin Kelly, Queen's Management School, Queen’s University Belfast; email@example.com
Matthew Sorola, Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick; firstname.lastname@example.org