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Critical Perspectives on Accounting 15 (2004) 529541

A comment on Recovering Accounting

Norman B. Macintosh
Accounting Faculty, School of Business, Queens University, Kingston, Canada K7L 3N6 Received 15 December 2002; accepted 30 January 2003

Abstract This commentary on Williamss (2002) essay Recovering Accounting as a Worthy Endeavor agrees with him that the accounting academy USA has been colonized by the positive economic missionaries of the informational perspective camp. Williams sees the prime motive for this as economic gain by academics, practitioners, and executives in organizations. This commentary tries to go beyond that conclusion to explore the why, the how, and the what-of-it of this state of affairs. For the why question it draws on Friedrich Nietzsches notion of the will-to-power as a way to justify, promote, and preserve a particular way of life. For the how question it likens the informational perspectives modus operandi as a special case of Michel Foucaults description of contemporary society that features a para-legal system which: operates outside the legal system; constitutes a juridical archipelago which performs the punitive mechanisms of justice; and functions as a quiet, unassuming economy of normative knowledge and power. And for the what-of-it question it explores the ethics of this hegemonic control from the ethical obligation of a Self to do good to an Other as argued by Emmanuel Levinas and applied by Shearer (2002) to economic theory and to the giving of accounts. The commentary goes on to argue that accounting research and theory could benet by taking the linguistic turn taken by most of the humanities and social science in recent decades by most of the humanities and social sciences in recent decades. It concludes that the ultimate function of criticism, for those who share a sensibility that the present status quo of the accounting academy and its support for global capitalism at large represents a serious transgression against the vast majority of humanity, is to struggle against the institutionalization of practices, like those of the informational perspective, that shut down the free-play of opinion and individual autonomy. 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Accounting research and theory; Accounting profession; Malaise and tribalism; Informational perspective; Economic theory; Will-to-power; Wild card for accounting; Science metanarrative; Ex-legal judicial regimes of justice; Levinasean philosophical ethics; Self and Other; Language games; The critic in society; Foucault; Lyotard; Nietzsche; Saussure; Wittgenstein

Tel.: +1-613-533-2334; fax: +1-613-533-6847. E-mail address: (N.B. Macintosh).

1045-2354/$ see front matter 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/S1045-2354(03)00043-1


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In his essay, Recovering Accounting as a Worthy Endeavor, Paul Williams takes umbrage with the US accounting research academy, the accounting profession, and accounting educators.1 He notes that Joel Demski, in his presidential address to the American Accounting Associations (AAA, 2001) Annual Meeting, bemoans the fact that accounting scholarship is in a sorry state. Of late, a malaise appears to have settled in. Our progress has turned at, our tribal tendencies have taken hold, and our joy has diminished (Demski, 2001, p. 1). Williams recalls that two other prominent leaders of the academy (Albrecht and Sack, 2001) recently reported that accounting education is plagued with many serious problems which, they warn, if not solved will result in the demise of accounting education. This angst is by no means a new phenomenon. Over a decade ago, Demski et al. (1991) identied a serious crisis facing the academic accounting community. They were particularly concerned: that accounting research has not led to better practice; that neither accounting practitioners nor regulators have paid much attention to accounting research output; that new ideas and concepts have been practically non-existent; and, perhaps most crucially, that despite 2030 years of research, solving fundamental accounting issues has not occurred. While Williams agrees wholeheartedly with these dreary observations, he does not, however, attribute the malaise to tribalism. Rather, he charges that the accounting academy has been colonized by a coterie of academicsthe positive economic missionarieswho have promoted economics as the basic theory for accounting research over the past several decades. He also asserts that accounting researchers, following this approach were, and continue to be, pre-occupied with demonstrating, over and over again that accounting information did (or did not) correlate with some kind of aggregate measure of stock market price movements. In this commentary I will refer to this and related research as the informational perspective dened as the view that treats accounting information, such as net income, ontologically as a commodity and analyzes it using methodologies from economic theory, with its scientic epistemological presuppositions, in order to focus on problems of measurement and valuation and to investigate the effects of accounting signals on security returns.2 This perspective, Williams believes, provides the accounting profession with the politically accepted metaphor that accounting is information and so accountants, as the providers of nancial information, became the facilitators of the workings of unregulated commerce and no longer its skeptical regulator. No longer watch dogs over management, they have become their running dogs. Today we have a Profession that has morphed into business consulting. We have Fortune 500 companies that make nothing [making money by making money] with only immeasurable intangible assets that capricious events [e.g., a endishly clever 14 year old] could make valueless over night. We have an academy that provides the Profession with only rationales for its entrepreneurial inclinations, but nothing that stands as valid knowledge for actually doing what it claims to be able to do or to suggest what it perhaps should be doing. The organized Profession determines what accounting is; it is abetted in
1 2

See Lee and Williams, 1999 and Reiter and Williams, 2002, for a detailed critique along similar lines. Beaver, 1996.

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this by the academy, largely through the banality of the research it honors and rewards. (Williams, 2002, p. 8) Williams concludes that the accounting academy and the profession constitute an institution whose aim is merely economic gain. To be sure, economic gain is part of the equation. I would like, however, to supplement that conclusion with another explanation. I believe there is a case to be made that something even more fundamental is at work, something which Friedrich Nietzsche (18441900) called the will-to-power. Moreover, Williams does not say much about how the informational perspective perpetuates its hegemony over the accounting academy. In order to ll this gap, I offer an explanation which draws on some of the work of Michel Foucault (19241984). Finally, some of the ethical issues surrounding the informational perspective are brought into the forefront.3

1. Preserving a way of lifethe will-to-power Nietzsche, pondering traditional philosophy, asked himself, What is the value of value judgments and what is the value of the process of valuing? The answer, he came to believe, lies in the value of values for justifying and promoting a particular way of existence. Underlying all moral values and evaluations is an insatiable desire to manifest power: the application and exercise of power as a creative instinct (Nietzsche, 1910, p. 110). In this Nietzsche was following the footsteps of Immanuel Kant (17241804) and Arthur Schopenhauer (17811860). Kant believed in the reality of the Will as an inner force that obeyed the rules of reason. His idealist metaphysics separated the world into two domains that of nature and knowledge and that of morals and faithboth of which he held to be rational. Schopenhauer disagreed, arguing that the Will is irrational, a kind of violent force operating through us creating passions and desires upon which we act but ultimately to no point at all. He saw the only way to escape this pointless existence was either aesthetic detachment (enjoy music, literature, art and other aesthetic endeavors) or ascetic renunciation (abandon desires as do religious orders). Nietzsche, rejecting both views, saw the Will as a vital and positive force; Behind all logic and its seeming sovereignty of movement, too, there stands valuations or, more clearly, physiological demands for the preservation of a certain way of life (Nietzsche, 1966, p. 11). He characterized this as an insatiable desire to manifest power: the application and exercise of power as a creative instinct . . . It is possible to trace all the instincts of an animal to the will-to-power; as also the functions of organic life to this one source (Nietzsche, 1910, p. 110). Each of mans basic drives, . . . would like only too well to represent Itself as the ultimate purpose of existence and the legitimate master of all the other drives. For every
3 Williams (2002), addresses the morality (i.e. the socially acceptable behavior of agents in a society) of the informational perspective. In doing so he treats ethics and morality as the same thing. In contrast, as used in this paper, ethics, following Aristotle, cannot be detached from the person trying to take right action in the face of a specic ethical situation. Ethics, on this view, always involves a concrete situation. It cannot negate the differences in the context of the action nor can it deny the reality of history (Macintosh, 1995, p. 297).


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drive wants to be masterand it attempts to philosophize in that spirit (ibid., pp. 1314). The master drive, he concluded, is the will-to-power. Its aim is to justify, promote, preserve, and cultivate a particular way of existence. Nietzsche (1966) illustrates this conclusion by reference to the ancient Greek Stoic school of philosophy that followed the teaching of Zeno. The Stoics claimed to discern the canon of their law by contemplating nature. They taught followers that Stoicism mirrored nature and so they should remain dispassionate about life and indifferent to its vicissitudes of pleasure, pain and fortune. They urged all to live in the Stoics image, as an immense eternal glorication and generalization of Stoicism (ibid., p. 16). Live according to Nature, was their maxim. But, Nietzsche (1966, p. 15) countered, nature is wasteful beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without purposes and consideration, without mercy and justice, fertile and desolate and uncertain at the same time. So the Stoics wanted something quite the opposite of naturean orderly contemplative life of indifference to passions and worldly pleasures. Rather than their doxology mirroring nature, nature was depicted as following the laws of the Stoics. What Nietzsche wants to teach us from this is that, What formerly happened with the Stoics still happens today, too, as soon as any philosophy begins to believe in itself. It always creates the world in its own image; it cannot do otherwise. Philosophy is this tyrannical drive itself, the most spiritual will-to-power, to the creation of the world, to the causa prima (ibid., p. 16). The informational perspective research regime bears more than a little resemblance to the Stoics. Just as the Stoics wanted to rule out the Dionysian side of life, the informational perspective, on the one hand, privileges the scientic method, quantitative analysis, empirical data and, on the other hand, rules out qualitative, interpretive, hermeneutical, and subjective research. Moreover, it seems to be forgotten that this movement began in the late 1960s, gained momentum, and by 1980 had pretty much come to dominate the accounting research community in the USA. By the mid-1980s, The Accounting Review, putatively the agship journal of the American Accounting Association published, almost exclusively, hypothetical-deductive research (both normative and positive) underpinned by economic theory. Yet in a survey of AAA journals commissioned by the AAA in the mid-1990s, The Accounting Review ranked an embarrassing sixth of all AAA journals. The AAA executive council did little to give the results of the survey wide-spread publicity. Although the informational perspective called itself the main stream, the rank and le of the accounting academy seemed to think it was only one of many streams. Beavers (1996) article provides an instructive overview of the informational perspective modus operandi and its agenda. He describes it in detail in his doctoral course at Stanford University noting that the seminal work by Ball and Brown (1968) on earnings announcements . . . more than any other work in accounting . . . affected the directions of security price research over the next 25 years (ibid., pp. 116117). Accounting research he says can be: . . . divided into two broad categoriesaccounting data as measurement and accounting data as information . . . the emphasis is on the effects of an accounting signal on the return distribution dened over some length of time . . . The primary emphasis in capital market

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research has been to assess the rst moment of the return distribution, conditional upon an informational signal. (ibid., p. 115) Beaver observes, however, that a major feature of current research . . . is the proportion of research that is taking place in nodes that are subcategories of subcategories . . . a natural consequence of pursuing a given area in depth and reects the maturing of the eld (ibid., p. 118). Furthermore, It is becoming increasingly difcult to conduct generic price-earnings relations studies that add to our stock of knowledge (ibid., p. 121). Consequently, he calls for some kind of wild card to reinvigorate accounting research. Perhaps this will involve incorporating some new eld into accounting or perhaps it will be the development of a new theory of accounting. And it seems that, . . . the creative processes of talented individuals ultimately may be the single most important factor (ibid., p. 122). That having been said, in a resourceful rhetorical move, Beaver redenes wild card in terms of the informational perspective doxology. A wild card . . . requires a grasp of underlying economic concepts and theories, an expertise in the research design of empirical studies, a command over a rich set of institutional knowledge, and the ability to integrate all these ingredients (ibid., p. 123). Having opened the door for incorporating some new eld into accounting, he quickly closes it by redening the wild card in terms of economic theory, scientic research design, and empirical studies. The wild card, it seems, must be a tame one. The informational perspective, it is important to understand, is underwritten and gains its legitimacy by privileging the scientic method for its epistemology. Yet, science, and this fact usually goes unnoticed, came on the scene as a highly radical and subversive movement in its own right as part and parcel of the Enlightenment project. Previously, knowledge was handed down from generation to generation through legends, myths, sagas, folklore, sermons, encyclicals, and the like. Such knowledge, frequently dispensed in the oral tradition, was legitimated by reference to tradition, holy books, classical tales, proverbs, and aphorisms. But as the Enlightenment intellectual project blossomed, science took over center stage, pushed age-old wisdom backstage, and replaced narrative knowledge as the only legitimate kind. Deemed to be objective and progressive, science was seen by most intellectuals to be the means to emancipate Western civilization from superstition and religionthe traditional narrative knowledge of the past. Science triumphed to emerge as the master language game. For Nietzsche (1910, p. 3), however, this was, . . . not the triumph of science, but the triumph of the scientic method over science. Moreover, as Lyotard (1984) makes clear, to hold sway, science had to call on the Enlightenment metanarrative, with its claim that truth, reason, progress and freedom were the ends of scientic discoveries. Ironically, science could only be underwritten by invoking narrative knowledgethe kind of thing it was trying to expunge. Similarly, the informational perspective, since it entreats the science metanarrative for its legitimation, is also underwritten with narrative knowledge, the very thing it wanted to replacethe narrative-type knowledge and technology of the accounting rules, postulates, and principles era. Nevertheless, economic-based empirical and normative methods came to dominate what counted as accounting research and knowledge. The irony of this aside, the important question that seems to go begging is, Just how does the informational perspective maintain its dominance and hegemonic control to promote,


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preserve, cultivate, and impose this particular way of academic life on the accounting researchers? Michel Foucaults (19241984) documentation of the appearance of the carceral society points towards a plausible answer.

2. Ex-judiciary power regimes In his classic genealogical critique of the appearance of a carceral-like society, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1979), Foucault concluded that we now live in a society whose major institutions, not just legal carceral ones, are supported by a judicial apparatus which, directly or indirectly, give (them) legal justication (ibid., p. 269). Emerging in the 19th century, these paralegal systems of justice spread from the prison system to the orphans homes, to the convent, to the factory, to the military, to the schools, to the universities, and to public and private sector organizations of all kinds. Today they constitute a juridical archipelago that has spread well beyond the frontiers of criminal law and which has . . . become one of the major functions of our society (ibid., p. 304). Indeed, in contemporary society these systems operate well beyond the jurisdictional borders of criminal law. They perform the mechanisms of justice, including the capacity to punish, functioning as a quiet, unassuming economy of normative knowledge. This normalizing power, working as a quiet, small, continuous, micro-physics of power, features constant examination and a subtle range and judicious mixture of gratifying and negative sanctions. As Foucault concludes, The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, doctor-judge, the social-worker judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may nd himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior his aptitudes, his achievements (ibid., p. 304). The informational perspective can been seen to operate as such an ex-juridical regime of justice. As Lee and Williams (1999, p. 867) observed, There exists an elite group of US researchers, who by virtue of their control over the principle organization of academic accountants (AAA) and the editorial boards of the leading US accounting journals, act to legitimate, or even so far as to police accounting knowledge. Their review of studies investigating the power of this cabal-like group, and drawing heavily on Browns (1996) study, led them to conclude that the informational perspective police, . . . utilize mechanisms within the hierarchy to control knowledge, enhance reputations, and maintain the reproductive order (ibid., p. 872). These judges have ruled that the generally-accepted model for accounting research is economics and nance-based empiricism (ibid., p. 261). In consequence, research grants, best paper awards and executive positions in the AAA, are meted out to academics who fall in line. Those who stray are pronounced guilty and unt for such perquisites. Department heads and tenure and promotion committees in US universities by and large, enforce the letter of the law as dictated by the informational perspective juridical regime. These academic magistrates are, to paraphrase Foucault (ibid., p. 294), in a sense, technicians of academic behavior: engineers of research conduct, and orthopaedists of the researchers individuality. Their task is to produce researchers who are both docile and technically capable of conducting informational perspective research. Beaver (1996) seems to understand this all too well. The editorial policies of accounting journals, he writes:

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. . . can have a dramatic inuence of the directions of accounting research. Annual conferences, including those sponsored by the journals, provide considerable incentives to conduct research in the topics areas selected . . . promotional policies at colleges and universities can dramatically affect the amount and nature of research conducted. Some have claimed that promotion policies have led accounting researchers to adopt research designs similar to those employed by other disciplines in the business school and university, and these policies are a major force in shaping accounting research. (ibid., p. 115) Beaver concludes by holding out every hope that editorial policies will facilitate rather than impede the development of such directions in future research (ibid., p. 123). Such directions, of course, refers to informational perspective research. At this juncture I would like to recount, as a case in point, a personal experience I had with informational perspective judges.

3. A personal experience In the mid-1990s, I submitted an article, Accounting and literary theory: Toward a poststructuralist perspective, to Contemporary Accounting Research. I thought it might qualify as one of Beavers wild cards. The paper went through two major revisions as I responded to the suggestions by two consecutive editors and two anonymous reviewers. Both reviewers recommended publication commenting; Comments included: I believe the paper is sufciently well written and innovative that it should be of interest to the general audience that constitutes CAR. This paper provides a clear and very useful tutorial on literary theory. The authors do a credible job of explaining how literary theory might challenge accountants and accounting researchers to think differently about accounting. This is a bold, imaginative and well written paper. It provides a well informed review of developments in literary theory . . . and links these to alternative views of accounting reports. I believe the paper would be wonderfully provocative and stimulating for CAR. In the interim, two new CAR co-editors were appointed, both well-known informational perspective researchers. In spite of the reviewers recommendation to publish, they ruled that: The paper does not warrant publication in CAR because it does not make a contribution to research in accounting or related areas . . . Unfortunately, your approachliterary criticismdoes not speak to any of the complex economic, regulatory, and other issues related to information production and the utility of information to the users of nancial statements. Nor does it take into consideration the vast body of knowledge developed


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through research in nancial reporting. Because of these failures . . . we have concluded that the exercise is essentially vacuous.4 I was guilty, it seems, of not producing a paper that followed the jurisprudence of the informational perspective. Moreover, the co-editors seemed to relish inicting this sentence on me. They evidently thought that rejection of the paper was not a stiff enough penalty. Their judgment included nearly 70 negative, grafti-like marginalia comments. As an outlaw, it seems that I also deserved 70 handwritten lashes. This type of examinatory justice for accounting academics operates almost unnoticed outside the law as a quasi-juridical-anthropological discursive regime of truth. Williams (2002), echoing this conclusion, points out that accounting itself operates as such a regime. He shows how the iron law of accountability . . . as an instrument of governance . . . acts to subject people to accounting intrusions . . . (its) moral directives, i.e. prescriptions command people to behave in certain ways . . . but without coherent moral justication (ibid., p. 7). The ethics of this, however, are pretty much bracketed off by informational perspective proponents in virtue of their reliance, as Shearer (2002) shows, on economics as the theory of choice.5 Yet, it would seem that, especially today in light of the ood of recent accounting scandals, that this is a agrant omission. A brief sortie into the ethics issues involved in the above follows.

4. Ethics and the informational perspective Shearer draws on Emmanuel Levinass (19061995) philosophy to develop unique insights into the ethics of economics and accounting.6 For Levinas, ethics is wound up in the personal relationship of a Self with an Other in a face-to-face encounter between strangers.7 The I, the ego, becomes conscious of itself as a Self (moi-meme) at that moment. In doing so Self incurs an obligation to do good to Other.8 The reason for this is simply that Self needs Other in order to be Self and, in this sense, desires Other. It is this desire that incurs the irrevocable obligation on the part of Self towards Other.
A letter dated March 17, 1999, to me as author of an article submitted to from the co-editors of Contemporary Accounting Research. 5 Shearer treats ethics as differing from morality. Morality is the socially constructed rules generally accepted widely in society about how to behave in social situations and interactions, such as Drive on the right (or left as the case may be) side of the street. Or As a citizen I am obligated to accord my social behaviors in accordance with the laws of the land. In a game of tennis, as a more mundane example, I implicitly agree to play by the rules which includes the morality of the game such as good sportsmanship and mandatory rotation of service and of ends. If I violate the rules of tennis, I am not necessarily being unethical, just morally reprehensible. 6 Levinas is a philosopher and ethicist whose writing on ethics and justice has attracted a great deal of attention recently in intellectual circles. He is internationally renowned as one of the great French (born in Lithuania) philosophers of the twentieth century and remains a pivotal gure across the humanistic disciplines for his insistenceagainst the grain of Western philosophical tradition, such as the ideas of Husserl and Heideggeron the primacy of ethics in philosophical investigations. 7 Otherwise it would be kinship (Levinas, 1999, p. 97). 8 This position, importantly, opposes that of other philosophers, such as Heidegger, Kant and Decartes, who held that the ontological moment comes into play beforethe ethical moment.

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Crucially, however, this obligation is not reciprocal. It attaches to Self and Self alone. It cannot be demanded of Other for to do so would mean making Other the same as Self thus eradicating and violating Others radical difference (alterity) which is desired by Self. Ethics, for Levinas, then, is this non-negotiable obligation to do good to Other. As Levinas makes the point: I am generous toward the other without that generosity being immediately claimed as reciprocal . . . the moment one is generous in hopes of reciprocity, that relation no longer involves generosity but the commercial relation, the exchange of good behavior. In the relation to the other, the other appears to me as one to whom I owe something, toward whom I have a responsibility. Hence the asymmetry of the IYou relation and the radical inequality between I and the you, for all relation to other is a relation to a being toward whom I have obligations. I insist, therefore, on the meaning of that gratuitousness of the for the other that arises within the I, like a command heard by him, as if obedience were already being [l etre] listening for the dictate. Alteritys plot is born before knowledge. (ibid., p. 101) The ethical moment, he insists, precedes the ontological moment. Coming back to Beavers wild card, when he obliges the wild card to be the same as that of the informational perspective, he does violence to the wild card by eradicating its difference. Thus, on Levinas view, he adopts an unethical position. Along similar lines, Shearer (2002) mounts a telling critique of economic theory. In the discourse of economic theory, Shearer points out, the individual (and the enterprise) is dened as pursuing self-interest in virtue of her natural propensity to trade, negotiate, and exchange goods with Other[s] by doing that, and only that, which she expects to obtain a net gain in her well-being as dened by her utility for effort and prot. Self, within economic theory, assumes that Other also holds to the same ethic and so Self has no obligations to Other. Economic theory, then, not only erases Selfs ethical obligation to Other, but it also denes Other as identical to Self thus effacing Others difference. Yet, for Levinas, this is impossible since the ethical moment arises before economic theorys ontology of the self-interested individual comes into being. The ethical obligation of Self to Other cannot be eradicated. Along similar lines, economic entities, Shearer observes, are properly accountable to a wider scope of good than their own since they provide the public at large with accounts of themselves in the form of, for example, annual reports attested to by public accounting rms. Neo-classical economics, which underpins much of accounting research and practice, is founded on a discourse which constructs the identity (the Self) of the entity (or the individual) such that it is obligated to pursue only its own good. Its essential being, economic theory holds, is its Self-interestedness with no obligation to Other with whom it does business. In consequence, current accounting practices, Shearer concludes, fail to meet the ethical demands for accountability that go with the very act of providing nancial statements for public consumption. So it would seem, although Shearer does not take her argument this far, that accounting, the accounting profession, and accounting theory that is underwritten by neo-classical economic theory, are unethical, or at least a-ethical.


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5. Where to from here? While drawing on Nietzsche, Foucault and Levinas provides for a deep understanding of the nature of the informational perspectives hegemony, it does not say much about what might be done. In this regard, Williams (2002, p. 10) proposes that we might, . . . revivify accounting as a scholarly discipline, as something that might appeal to thoughtful people and as a useful practice, is to conceive of accounting as something apart from the Profession. His closing set of rhetorical questions suggest, albeit implicitly, that accounting should develop apart from the people that currently do it; that new accountings will require new institutions; that multi-vocal approaches need to replace the current univocal scientic morality of current accounting research; and that, . . . we should strive to reach that condition of the academy when no scholarly utterance can be challenged simply on the grounds that it isnt in the economic interests of the Profession (ibid., p. 10). Williams, however, does not go into how or what should be done in order to achieve these aims. In consequence, in closing, I will gesture towards one path that could be fruitfully followed, the wild card that the CAR co-editors dismissed. The idea is that accounting research, theory and practice should follow the linguistic or literary turn taken by most of the social sciences and humanities in recent decades.

6. A linguistic turn for accounting research Linguistic turn means treating the phenomenon of interest as a text, discourse, narrative, language game, or discursive formation. The linguistic turn can be traced to two highly signicant developments that took place in the 20th century. The rst of these is the advent of Saussures (1959) structural semiotics which was later taken to its radical extremes by poststructural social philosophers. The second is Wittgensteins philosophical turn away from the language-as-picture theory to develop his language game theory of words and meaning. It is beyond the scope of this commentary to delve into any detail regarding these developments. Instead, I will conclude by gesturing in very general terms to what a literary turn might mean for accounting. In the rst instance, it would mean adopting ontological, epistemological and methodological presuppositions that differ in important ways from those of the informational perspective. Instead of treating accounting reports and information as commodities, it means treating them as texts, narratives, discourse, and discursive formations. Furthermore, instead of adopting a Popperian scientic, hypothetical-deductive epistemology, it means adopting poststructuralist semiotics. And instead of conducting synchronic investigations of accounting signals, it means carrying out Nietzschean diachronic, historical genealogical investigations of accounting thought and practices. This type of research, which is beginning to appear in accounting journals in increasing numbers, sees language as playing an active role in the realms of meaning and knowledge construction (see Macintosh et al., 2000; Macintosh, 2002). As Wittgenstein (1967) argued in Philosophical Investigations, words are not just a way of naming things, but rather they get used in quite different ways and with a variety of meanings in different language games. Language (and mathematics) are not merely the

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neutral means of describing discovered knowledge, but, he came to believe, they play a central role in creating knowledge and meaning. Language always come between ourselves and the thing-in-itself whose meaning we are trying to grasp. A linguistic turn, following poststructural semiotics and Wittgensteins language game theory, could be a way of overturning the informational perspectives hegemonic grip on accounting research and of achieving Williams goal of revivifying accounting research and recovering accounting as a worthy endeavor. In retrospect, it seems that a major paradigm, perhaps, but not necessarily a literary turn, seems inevitable. As history shows, before the informational perspective came to rule over the accounting academy in the USA, the Paton and Littleton postulates, principles, and rules approach which stressed narrative knowledge held sway.9 And, just as that movement supplanted the professional judgment era of the rst part of the 20th century, the postulates approach was replaced by the informational perspective with its mantra that research which is scientic, objective, and quantitative is superior to those previous approaches since they were subjective, soft, and qualitative. We do science; they tell stories was their axiom. Nevertheless, it seems certain that the informational perspective will be replaced by some other research paradigm. Who knows, the wild card for such a transformation could be the linguistic turn.

7. Epilogue Yet there is much more at stake in all of this than challenging the informational perspective ruling cast for a respected and legitimate space within the accounting academy. It seems, in the wake of the widespread various Enron-Gates and Arthur Andersen- Gates putative scandals, which seem to extend throughout the nancial and accounting community and right up to and into the White House, that the very existence of the accounting profession, as we know it today, is in jeopardy. And the idea that with the right mixture of Whiggish nostrums (stiffer penalties including jail terms, more regulations, revisions of key GAAPs, increased oversight, etc.) will correct the situation seems highly unlikely. Such initiatives, as they have in the past, are merely palliative. Similarly, calling for the accounting academy to be more involved in refurbishing the sundry conundrums and thorny issues hampering the ability of accounting to present reliable, objective, and disinterested portrayals of the nancial and economic fortunes of large-scale private enterprises, seems particularly grotesque in the face of the recent ood of innovative applications of GAAPs by the various players in the nancial markets game. The complicity in this of other stakeholdersthe merchant banks, the investment houses,
9 The accounting postulates, standards, etc. of the Patton and Littleton era were linguistic, not scientic. They should deal with fundamental conceptions, and general approaches to the presentation of accounting facts . . . Standards should deal with fundamental conceptions and general approaches to the presentation of facts . . . In essence, a scheme of accounting standards should consist simply of an explanation of what accounting attempts to tell the interested parties through the medium of reports of nancial position and results of operation . . . accounting standards are not in themselves procedures they point toward accounting procedures, that is, toward rules which cover the details of specic situations (Patton and Littleton, 1940, pp. 56).


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the tax shelter havens, and even the nancial pressis all the more discomforting. It augers for a very real crisis of legitimation for the profession. It needs to be recognized, however, that this state of affairs is brought on partly by the inability of current accounting methods and technology (including GAAPs and double entry accounting) to transparently reect with reasonable accuracy the true, real, or intrinsic net income and capital of large-scale organizations operating globally in sundry countries with hundreds of different products and services.10 Yet, if accountants can no longer accomplish this, and given the widespread surfacing of accounting manipulations by companies and accounting rms that have surfaced recently, then it would seem that the very legitimation for the profession to be privilege to a virtual legal monopoly of accounting and auditing services is in jeopardy. The recent scurrying, in the face of the current widespread and growing public suspicion of accountants and the accounting profession, to do damage control by various professional accounting organizations in the USA and Canada bears witness to this crisis. Along with this eleventh hour for the profession, it is not too far a stretch to think that the dominant ideology of global, nancial capitalism, underwritten by free-market, economic theory and legitimated by accounting reports, might also be in the throes of a similar crisis. So it is precisely at this moment in history that high quality critical accounting research can play a vital role. After all, the ultimate function of academic criticism, as Terry Eagleton writes, for those who share a sensibility that the present status quo represents a series of serious transgressions against the vast majority of humanity, is to struggle against the institutionalization of practices that shut down the free-play of opinion and individual autonomy: The critic as cultural commentator acknowledges no inviolable boundary between one idiom and another, one eld of social practice and the next; his role is to ramble or idle among them all, testing each against the norms of that general humanism of which he is the bearer . . . The role of the contemporary critic, then, is a traditional one . . . Moreover, it is possible to argue that such an enquiry might contribute in a modest way to our very survival. (Eagleton, 1984, pp. 19, 123124)

Brown, L.D. Inuential accounting articles, individuals, Ph.D. granting institutions and faculties: A citation analysis. Accounting, Organizations and Society 1996;72354. Demski J, Lev B, Ronen J, Searfoss G, Sunder, S. A statement on the state of academic accounting. Statement to the Research Director of the American Accounting Association; 1991. Eagleton T. The function of criticism: From the spectator to post-structuralism. London, UK: Verso Editions; 1984. Foucault M. Discipline & punish: The birth of the prison. New York, NY: Vintage Books; 1979 [Sheridan A, Trans.]. Lee T, Williams P. Accounting from the inside: legitimating the accounting academic elite. Critical Perspectives on Accounting 1999;10(6):86795. Levinas E. Alterity & transcendence. New York, NY: Columbia University Press; 1999.
10 See Macintosh, 2002, especially chapter 6, Accounting and Truth, for a detailed description of this crisis and the philosophical ramications thereof.

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