Friday, 31 May 2013

External Accounting & Activism: Thoughts from a workshop

In a cavernous room in the University of Strathclyde, accounting academics gathered on earlier this week to discuss our conceptions, experiences and understandings of external accounting and activism. The international group came together to discuss responses to such questions: What did we mean by activism? What is accounting, for that matter? What problems or issues did our research, our engagement focus upon? What are the limits, possibilities and practicalities of doing this engagement? After lunch, we returned to watch and listen to four presentations from around the globe. From valleys and coasts of Aotearoa New Zealand, to the oil fields of Nigeria via the mountains of Peru, we heard about alterative accounts and multiple actors assembled around and responding to problems of climate change, biodiversity and corporate misconduct.

Over the course of the day, we identified some key themes and elements that could be considered around this area of external accounting and activism.

  • Problem orientated research permeated our interests. From the prevention of coal mine operations to the recognition of impacts of student loans, our research projects often sought to document, examine, sometimes critique and other times participate in interventions to seek some form of change.
  • It is important to appreciate and explore understandings of terminology and give time to discuss alternative perspectives.
  • Appreciation of the multiple spaces in which activism might occur. While we might commonly think of activism protests on streets, we observed that activism occurs in parliamentary committee rooms, lecture halls and even Facebook pages.
  • We identified a variety of activism practices including holding banners, compiling shadow accounts, writing research reports, lobbying politicians, creating sculptures, and documenting climate change in the local environment. The professionalization and the sophistication of practices prompted us to wonder, are PR companies and NGOs incorporating the same practices but for very different ends?
  • The role(s) and identities of accounting academics. We wondered did authority come with the identity? When might it be an (in)appropriate time to declare such identities? Rather than declare a determination to all be public intellectuals, we recognised that individuals each have skills and capacities to engage in various ways. By sharing research experiences, we began to appreciate the diverse practices and possibilities of engaged scholarship in this area but with a broader appreciation of the institutional opportunities, pressures and responsibilities that come from our position.

So what next? For some of us, it’s about writing up individual projects and a collective piece reflecting and imagining possibilities for accounting research and activism to contribute to add … Watch this space!!

If you have any thoughts or comments relating to this topic, please comment below, email Shona Russell ( or join us for a chat at CSEAR 2013.

Thanks to everyone for an interesting and stimulating day. I’m really looking forward to continuing the conversation in person, over email and in articles.

Shona Russell (May 2013)