Monday, 4 June 2018

Meet the Members: Rob Gray

Professor Rob Gray, Emeritus Professor, University of St Andrews
Founder of CSEAR

What circumstances brought you to start CSEAR?  

Beware of revisionist histories! Trying to develop "social accounting" (whatever that was) in the 1970s and 1980s was a very lonely enterprise until I met Dave Owen, Keith Maunders, Lee Parker, James Guthrie and Reg Mathews and suddenly we were a gang - which is much more fun.  By 1990 we were beginning to be appointed to chairs and we realised we could do more. For me, the turning point was 2 Australian academics turning up in my office in Dundee complaining about being lonely and pretty beaten up: introducing them to each other and trying to scrape a bit of money together to set up a network seemed like an inevitable next step. The first Summer School funded by the BAA was a week long and a truly extraordinary experience for everybody who needed to come out as a social accountant!  People simply refused to go home at the end of the week - I have never experienced anything like it. We decided to experiment to see if there was an appetite for another summer school and we set up a (temporary?) network to support delegates….. hello CSEAR: which has been vastly more successful than we could have ever anticipated.

Why do you think it is an important organisation? 

Ken McPhail called CSEAR a "community of faith" and George Harte referred to it as the "place where we recruit guerrillas in the social and environmental wars". It is a tolerant and safe place where ideas can be explored with others who think similarly… but it must not become an echo chamber/nursery that folk cannot leave. The world in general and the academic world in particular are arguably as malevolent as they ever were and CSEAR would be a failure if it didn't match its nurture with the encouragement to tackle real issues.

What publication (of yours) are you most proud of, why?

Always an amusing question. I guess Corporate Social Reporting (1987) with Dave Owen (and Keith Maunders) because we actually did it! Put together a semi-coherent field that could be taught and could be shown to have purpose. Most publications represent something of a personal achievement of one sort or another and I have been proud of many of them - because they at least advanced what I thought of as my understanding of the subject and lots of them were really hard! If I am allowed two then I suppose I would choose {Gray Rob (2006) "Trustworthy plc" Green Futures  March/April p45} because it is very short, still makes me laugh and kind of says all I have to say!

What work are you presently interested in?

Mostly, in the sense in which the question is probably intended, I am interested where the next burst of outrage and innovation is going to come from. I remain involved in work with a few colleagues; I am enjoying writing the odd speculative chapter for the more wacky books; and I continue to try and read around (what I suppose we might summarise as) cognitive dissonance. I remain obsessed by the puzzlement as to how intelligent and informed people with no particular obvious self-interest can continue to ignore the very real possibility that their/our/my work is entirely missing the point and makes fiddling whilst Rome burns seem focused and pro-active. I have enjoyed looking into the possibilities offered by the extinction of humanity!

Where do you see the social and environmental accounting research will grow to in the future? 

I am not sure I currently have any particular views on that. I think it would be sad if we let normal science - which is a really important theme of course but inevitably immanent - come to dominate work which was explicitly grubby, painful, which dealt with dead animals and starving babies, which drew from the anguish of intolerance and refused to take the myths of international financial capitalism for granted.

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