Critical perspectives on accounting

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Critical Perspectives on Accounting (1996) 7 , 461 – 484

University of Stirling
The very limited attention paid to the conditions of contemporary accounting labour by critical accounting researchers constitutes a significant oversight in the development of the critical accounting project to date. This paper seeks to repair thesituation by identifying a research agenda for the study of accounting labour informed by the existing theoretical and empirical literatures. It also offers a strong statement of the changeorientated imperative of critical accounting, and discusses the relevance of critical accounting for accounting practitioners. ÷ 1996 Academic Press Limited

Introduction The emergence of critical accountinghas enriched the contribution made by the academic study of accountancy. It has elevated the study of the non-technical aspects of accountancy, its history, politics, philosophy and sociology, to an impressive level of sophistication. An identifiable critical accounting literature is emerging, characterised by a balance of mature theoretical and substantial empirical insights1. Critical themes arealso beginning to penetrate areas in the mainstream of accounting thought (e.g. Chua, 1986; Macintosh and Scapens, 1991), while a number of critical accounting scholars have found an outlet for some of their work in the related disciplines of organisation and management studies (e.g. Laughlin, 1991), and sociology (e.g. Miller and Rose, 1990). At this early juncture it may be unreasonable toexpect the critical accounting project to exhibit a comprehensive prospectus of concerns and insights. Nevertheless, the very limited attention which has been devoted to the study of the conditions of contemporary accounting labour, as opposed to the nature of, and issues associated with, the accountancy profession, is a significant oversight in the development of critical accounting. To a very largeextent, the literature of critical accounting fails to problematise the image of the accountant as a powerful organisational player, as a professional who finds challenge in the performance of her / his skills, as securely employed, generously rewarded and able to look forward with confidence to sustained career progression. Consequently, the bulk of accountants are cast as enthusiastic accomplices tothe many inequities which critical accountants, quite correctly, associate with the institution of accountancy, (e.g. Editorial in
Address for correspondence: Dr Robin Roslender, Department of Accountancy and Finance, University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA, U.K. Received 22 February 1993; revised 10 July 1994 , 15 March 1995 , 27 July 1995; accepted 15 September 1995.
461 1045 – 2354 / 96 /040461 24 $18.00 / 0 ÷ 1996 Academic Press Limited


R. Roslender

Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 1990). Earlier work by Johnson (1972, 1977a,b, 1980, 1982) casts doubt on this imagery in the case of the UK profession, although it has failed to persuade many critical accounting researchers to study the conditions of accounting labour. As a result, the critical accounting projecthas failed to exploit a valuable opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of critical accounting to those who perform the labour of accounting, and is thereby impoverished. This paper seeks to catalyse the study of the conditions of accounting labour as a further element of the critical accounting project. It is in five sections, the first of which debates the question: what is critical accounting? Achange-orientated critical accounting project is commended, one privileging a significant degree of political engagement. The second section considers the relevance of critical accounting for accountants, arguing that an interest in the conditions of accounting labour is a major point of contact between the two parties. In the third section, the various critical perspectives available for the...
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