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|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|8358||2005||24 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Volume 16, Issue 7, October 2005, Pages 905–928
Accounting is conventionally constituted and practised as a quantitative discipline which emphasises the use of money values. Where such values are unavailable or inappropriate, non-money quantifications or qualitative forms of information take precedence. However, the boundaries of conventional accounting remain imprecisely defined and this creates a jurisdictional tension between monetary and non-monetary systems of accountability. This issue is examined within the context of the Australian and New Zealand public sectors, where recent regulatory changes have mandated the valuation for financial reporting purposes of a broad range of government controlled resources that are of a non-financial character. Rationales for this expanded use of money values are re-evaluated within the context of practical and theoretical issues associated with their application, particularly with regard to the accountability of public sector institutions. This accountability theme is then extended in terms of the need to make accounting itself more accountable within the public sector.
In his book The Measure of Reality (1997), Alfred Crosby charts the epochal shift in Western society that was driven by the development of advanced methods of quantification between the 13th and 16th centuries: During the late Middle Ages and Renaissance a new model of reality emerged in Europe. A quantitative model was just beginning to displace the ancient qualitative model. Copernicus and Galileo, the artisans who taught themselves to make one good cannon after another, the cartographers who mapped the coasts of newly contacted lands, the bureaucrats and entrepreneurs who managed the new empires and East and West India companies, the bankers who marshalled and controlled the streams of new wealth—these people were thinking of reality in quantitative terms with greater consistency than any other members of their species. –(Crosby, 1997, p. xi) As this paragraph suggests, bookkeeping and accounting were an integral part of this “new model of reality”. Indeed, Crosby makes the bold claim that “In the past seven centuries bookkeeping has done more to shape the perceptions of more bright minds than any single innovation in philosophy or science” (1997, p. 221). While the development of advanced systems of quantification brought many benefits, measurers in the late Middle Ages were sometimes confused and overzealous in applying their newly discovered techniques: “when in the fourteenth century the scholars of Oxford's Merton College began to think about the benefits of measuring not only size, but also quantities as slippery as motion, light, heat and colour, they forged right on, jumped the fence, and talked about quantifying certitude, virtue and grace” (Crosby, 1997, p. 14). Such misplaced endeavour may seem quaint today, but the basic problem of deciding what can and should be quantified persists. The quantification revolution in Western society provided an alternative to previous ways of understanding, but it would only be superior within certain contexts: Today we utilize numbers when we want narrow focus on a given subject and maximum precision in our deliberations. The old Europeans preferred broad focus and settled for imprecision in the hope of including as much as possible of what might be important. –(Crosby, 1997, p. 46) While the language of number has achieved unrivalled prominence in science (McLeish, 1991), in other domains numerical representations are sometimes impractical or inappropriate. Money values, for example, are ascribed routinely to items, such as motor vehicles, plant and equipment, land and buildings, but can rarely be assigned on a reliable basis in connection with more amorphous concepts, such as a happy family life, good health, or a clean natural environment. Between such obvious extremes lies a territory in which the choice between quantitative and qualitative means of expression—and the circumstances in which both might be applied—is sometimes contested (see, e.g. Burritt et al., 1996, Carman, 1996, Carman et al., 1999 and Churchman, 1971). This is a fundamental issue in accounting, which has been defined traditionally in terms of its primary emphasis on monetary quantification: “the specific subject matter dealt with in accounting is money-price” (Littleton, 1953, p. 9). Although in recent years calls have been made for financial reports to embrace a wider spectrum of information—such as social and environmental impacts (Deegan, 1998, Gray, 2002, Gray et al., 1996, Lehman, 1999 and Parker et al., 1989)—money remains “the universal substance of accounting” (Porter, 1996, p. 37). The creation and navigation of this boundary between the monetary and non-monetary, and between accounting and other disciplines, such as law (Bromwich, 1992), environmental science (Power, 1991 and Power, 1997a) and engineering (Miller, 1998), may have implications that go far beyond accounting's traditional technical issue of determining the form and content of financial reports. As many accounting researchers have now recognised, there is much more to accounting than is suggested by its traditional dour, neutral and functionalist image (Burchell et al., 1980, Carnegie and Napier, 1996, Carruthers, 1995, Colwyn Jones and Dugdale, 2001, McSweeney, 1997, Miller, 1994, Miller and O’Leary, 1987 and Morgan, 1988) and this re-understanding has been extended to include accounting within the public sector (Broadbent and Guthrie, 1992, Guthrie, 1998, Laughlin and Broadbent, 1993 and Lawrence, 1999). Although portrayed as being essentially descriptive, financial reports are subjectively constituted and interpreted (McSweeney, 1997 and Morgan, 1988). The information they contain is used both to influence and rationalise human actions and, in turn, reflects the results of such actions (Hines, 1988). As a consequence, the imposition or selection of systems of monetary valuation has the capacity to re-categorise particular domains as “financial” and precipitate a re-understanding of what is being accounted for: “To quantify qualities is to abstract away much of their conventional meaning” (Porter, 1996, p. 44). It may also lead to a re-casting of the status of occupations operating within those domains. The accounting profession enjoys substantial authority in identifying, valuing and recording events and circumstances in money terms (Montagna, 1986, West, 1998 and West, 2003, chapter 3), and in legitimating such representations through the audit function (Pentland, 2000, Power, 1995, Power, 1996 and Power, 1997b). Moreover, as an elite occupational group the accounting profession enjoys a privileged capacity to impose the very systems of monetary valuation that command its expertise, extend its authority and enhance its status (Booth and Cocks, 1990). In this way accounting needs to be understood not as a neutral—if not benign—technical means of promoting accountability, but as a sociological and institutional practice which itself needs to be made accountable through those who endorse and practise it (see, e.g. Hopwood and Miller, 1994). Recent developments in Australian and New Zealand public sector financial reporting have precipitated a significant increase in the assignment of money values to community and other resources which were previously accounted for by primarily non-financial means, both quantitative and qualitative.1Miller (1998, p. 174) has noted that “[a]ccounting is most interesting at its margins”, and these changes to public sector accounting provide an opportunity to examine the practice and consequences of the incremental application of conventional accounting technique. Illustrations of the expanded—although often problematic—assignment of money values to public resources for financial reporting purposes are provided in the following section. Two main themes are then developed from this exposition. First, consideration is given to the implications of these changes for the accountability evaluations and other decision making processes of the users of public sector financial reports. Second, the accountability theme is enlarged in terms of assessing the accountability of the accounting profession itself for the practices of monetary valuation that it has designed, endorsed and applied in connection with public sector institutions. Conclusions on these matters are provided in the final section.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
The purpose of this paper has been to explore two interrelated facets of accountability. The first concerns the changes to accounting practice within the Australian public sector which have had as their main distinguishing feature the full implementation of the conventional private sector system of accrual accounting and an extensive expansion of the range of public sector resources, including those of a non-financial character, which are subject to monetary valuation. It has been argued, especially in cases where key non-financial resources are to be valued for financial reporting purposes, that these reforms have failed to achieve their stated purpose of promoting enhanced mechanisms of accountability within the public sector because their almost exclusive financial focus fails to embrace the need for a much broader discourse of accountability within public sector settings. As Chua (1996, p. 151) has noted, calculative languages “take away context whether it is cultural, temporal, historical”. Yet, it is precisely such contexts that need to be to the fore in appreciating, managing and being made properly accountable for many public sector resources, such as library and museum collections. Reassigning the way in which particular resources are accounted for risks reassigning the way they are viewed and understood: Rarely, if ever, are preexisting qualities simply made more precise by being quantified. At issue, rather, is the creation of new entities, made impersonal and (in this sense) objective when widely scattered people are induced to count, measure, and calculate in the same way. –(Porter, 1996, p. 36) The second accountability theme concerns the accountability of accounting itself, especially in the post-Enron era. In particular, it has been contended that accounting regulators and professionals have a responsibility to ensure that they are accountable for the technical practices they impose. This includes assessing the implications for organisational and social functioning of applying such practices and responding on an adequate and timely basis when they are criticised. Ignoring alternative approaches to enhancing accountability within the public sector—that are proposed on the basis of their aptness within particular organisational contexts—is also not indicative of a responsive or flexible professional group. Common to both these themes is the notion that effective discourses of accountability must often embrace more than just financial data and that the value of many public sector resources—being not of a financial kind—should not be attempted to be expressed in money terms. Identifying and evaluating the impacts of such practices will assist in broadening debate on proposed accounting reforms and contribute to making accounting more accountable. Accounting, with its conventional emphasis on monetary valuation, plays a key role in enabling systems of accountability within a broad range of contexts. However, enhancing the usefulness of accounting information requires an awareness and acknowledgement of its limitations. The issue of what can and needs to be assigned money values is essential in delineating the boundaries of conventional accounting. In resolving this issue it needs to be recognised that “[a]ccounting systems should not drive policy: it should be the other way around” (Corbett, 1996, p. 139). Rather than proceed from such recognition, recent changes in public sector accounting—and in particular the process of assigning financial values to non-financial resources—appear to have been driven by an obsessive and narrow pecuniary focus: “the culture of … accounting does not seem to know half measures” (Zan et al., 2000, p. 337). Under this interpretation of the public sector, what has not been assigned a money value is presumed to be unaccounted for, unacknowledged, unappreciated, and even not yet called into being. It is an interpretation that needs to be critically analysed and then modified in order to enable broader, more apt and cost-efficient systems of accountability—emphasising the safekeeping of non-financial resources—to be adopted within the public sector, and to make accounting itself more accountable. As Nelson (1993, p. 226) notes, “When it cannot hear the distinctive voices of others, accounting ends up trying to see what others are doing, through the single-minded medium of money”. Misplaced systems of monetary valuation resulting from this single-mindedness threaten to devalue the resources to which they are applied and presage of the need for greater scrutiny of the occupational group that oversees and prescribes such practice.