critical accounting


critical accounting
A reformist movement that challenges current accounting and auditing practices. Largely university based, the critical accounting movement is a broad school of thought that seeks emancipation from current social, economic, and power structures. Its aim is to "unfreeze and challenge conventional discourses and practices" (Sikka and Willmott, 1997, 161). The practices and institutional structures of external auditing are frequent targets for the movement’s critiques. The movement owes its intellectual origins to various strands of critical social theory - it contains Marxists, environmentalists, and admirers of Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault, and Jiirgen Habermas, among others. In broad terms, it is left-leaning and radical in tone. Depending on how far one wishes to cast the definition of "critical accounting," major figures in the movement may be said to include *Austin Mitchell, *Michael Power, and *Prem Nath Sikka, though many individuals commonly identified as critical accountants might deny their adherence to the movement. (In addition, there is much squabbling among critical accountants who adhere to competing ideologies.) Important critical accounting journals include *’Accountancy, Business, and the Public Interest and *Critical Perspectives on Accounting. The *Association for Accountancy and Business Affairs is a prominent critical accounting forum. The quotations that follow indicate the tone and concerns of some of the movement’s complex and varied philosophies. The large external auditing firms have been described as "pre-occupied with fees and client appeasement" (Cousins et al., 1998, 9), as "accessories to casino capitalism" (Mitchell et al., 1991, 3), and even as "emperors of darkness" (Dunn and Sikka, 1999, 4). On auditing: "The social practice of ‘audit’ does not have a single unambiguous meaning but rather, numerous competing meanings that exist side by side... This is not to say that ‘audit’ is meaningless, but rather that its meaning is contingent and negotiable: its fixing within relations of power is precarious and subject to redefinition" (Sikka et al., 1998, 303-304); the *audit society "can be understood as a label for a loss of confidence in the central steering institutions of society, particularly politics... it may be that a loss of faith in intellectual, political and economic leadership has led to the creation of industries of checking which satisfy a demand for signals of order" (Power, 2000, 188). On accounting: "Class warfare is institutionalised and perpetuated by accounting practices" (Sikka et al. (1999). Further reading: Cousins et al. (1998); Dunn and Sikka (1999); Mitchell and Sikka (2002); O’Regan (2003b); Power (1997); Sikka and Willmott (1997)

Auditor's dictionary. 2014.

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