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Critical Perspectives on Accounting 21 (2010) 171–182

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Critical Perspectives on Accounting
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The contours of critical accounting

1. Introduction The majority of papers in this special issue were first presented at the European Critical Accounting Symposium (ECAS) convened at the University of York inJuly 2006. The objective of ECAS is to create a polyphonic space (Kornberger et al., 2006) that brings together critical researchers from the sub-disciplines of critical accounting, management, organization theory, as well as the social sciences more generally. The publication of this collection of papers provides an opportunity to review the contribution of critical accounting to the emergence ofaccounting as a scholarly discipline. Such an opportunity is apposite since not only do the collection of papers in this issue reprise some key debates covered by this journal and others over a number of years and decades, but they also signal new entrances and expanding directions. They exemplify the lenses through which accounting opens dialogues with a wide range of other disciplines, fromorganization theory, strategy, micro-economics and history. Connections to these strands of social theory and organization remain as important as they were 25 years ago when Hopwood (1983) seminally pointed out that accounting cannot be understood merely as a set of techniques, nor in the context just of the organizational, but must also connect with social theory (see Cooper et al., 2009).Accounting is also maturing as an academic discipline, such that along with the other social sciences it can offer informed comment on crucial issues. Long an importer of social theory, work by accounting scholars, such as Peter Miller, Ted O’Leary and Mike Power, is now widely exported to the broader social sciences. In the UK, where both the guest editors live and work, influential thinktanks, such asDEMOS, have picked up on research conducted by accounting scholars (see Power, 2004); accounting researchers feature regularly in national newspapers; while others have appeared before House of Commons Select Committees; or on television. For critically oriented accounting scholars these constitute important developments, both increasing the prominence of critical accounting but also opening up thepossibility of engaging in public debate (Burawoy, 2005; Said, 1994), thus taking accounting concerns out of the academy and into the public sphere. Themes long pursued in accounting – such as critiques of capitalism, concern that orthodox accounting practice contributes to the environmental crisis, scepticism about the power and role of the accountancy profession, social justice, the ideologicalimpact of accounting tools – have an added salience, given many of the problems currently facing society. Moreover, understanding how accounting operates in such contexts offers the opportunity for greater understanding and, ultimately, for effecting social change. Given the hegemony of corporations, critical accountants are well placed to mount carefully researched critiques. The papers in thisissue provide fascinating examples of how critical accounting is developing. The areas of engagement are reviewed below: these comprise of an accounting contribution to understanding the concept of strategic management and competitive advantage (Bowman and Toms, 2010); an analysis of the historical and political processes promoting progressive and regressive taxation (Cooper et al., 2010); aperspective on how expert knowledge, such as accounting, is implicated in social theories of risk (Hanlon, 2010); an innovative discussion of oral history as a methodology for studying accountants (Haynes, 2010); an exploration of social theorist Judith Butler’s radical perspective on identity and performativity (McKinlay, 2010); and, an actor-network theory analysis of the translation of management...
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