پتانسیل رهایی بخش حسابداری اجتماعی: نقد گرامشی
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 20 (2009) 205–227
At the heart of the social accounting project lies a radical and emancipatory intent. Yet social accounting practice, in the form of corporate self reporting, has systematically failed to open up organisations to substantive critique. Rather than rendering transparent the contradictions within capitalism, corporate social accounting primarily obfuscates these. Through corporate social accounting business expresses Moral and Intellectual Leadership, further entrenching its hegemony. This paper offers a theoretical explanation for why this is the case, drawing upon the work of Antonio Gramsci. Corporate social accounting serves a regressive role because it is closely tied to the economic base of society. An emancipatory social accounting would operate relatively autonomously from the economic base and actively expose the contradictions of the current hegemony. Such an accounting could be, indeed is, practiced by civil society. This paper goes further than merely critiquing corporate social accounting and draws attention to some of the different types of social accounting that are practiced by civil society organisations. In drawing attention to these civil society accounts the paper suggests that the social accounting project’s emancipatory intent can still be realised although this would require a reassessment of the faith that has hitherto been placed in the corporation as an emancipatory change agent.
The normative rationale for social accounting1 has been crystallised on numerous occasions by Gray et al. (1987, 1995, 1996, 1997), and carried through by many others (see, for example, Adams, 2002; Bebbington, 1997; Buhr, 1998, 2002; Deegan, 2002; Owen et al., 2000, 2001; O’Dwyer, 2002, 2003; Thomson and Bebbington, 2005; Unerman and Bennett, 2004). The basic argument underlying the social accounting project is that organisations have a duty to discharge information pertaining to their social and environmental interactions to a wider group of constituents than simply financial stakeholders. Such information is ideally construed as being instrumental in informing society and, ultimately, in bringing about a more participative democracy (see, in particular, Gray et al., 1996). The social accounting project is concerned with the social dislocations and environmental degradation that arise from advanced capitalism. Whether this implies a transcendence of capitalism or merely its reformation along more socio-democratic lines is not explicitly stated, or is at least left open. Either way, one of the key functions prescribed for social accounting practice is to expose the conflicts inherent in commercial activity. This is something that corporate social accounting practice has systematically failed to do.2 Rather than expose conflicts, corporate social accounting has been deployed in order to obfuscate these and, in doing so, has further legitimises both corporate activity and the societal structures that such activity depends upon. Corporate social accounting practice can therefore be seen to be counter-productive to the academic social accounting project’s aims of enhanced democracy. This paper explores the emancipatory potential of the social accounting project through Gramscian theorising. In particular, David Levy’s use of Gramsci’s theory of hegemony in the context of corporate approaches to environmental management is drawn upon in order to conceptualise both social accounting and its overlaps into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Social accounting is viewed from this perspective as one element of an integrated strategy with CSR that is designed to accommodate social and political pressures, whilst maintaining ideological autonomy for business and markets. Social accounting thus serves a hegemonic function. This conclusion broadly coheres with previous Political Economy theorisations of social accounting, suggesting the form in which corporations undertake social accounting is inevitably highly determined by the underlying economic base. However, the paper argues that an emancipatory social accounting that is not highly determined by the economic base is possible and, indeed, is already being undertaken in different forms. Social accounting that is not undertaken by corporations but by civil society organisations represents a much more substantive attempt to expose the contradictions that permeate current modes of economic organisation. As such, this social accounting has the potential and intent to create a fissure in current structural arrangements, paving the way for a re-organisation of society along more humane and ecologically sensitive parameters. The paper proceeds as follows. Firstly, the emancipatory ideals underpinning the social accounting project will be outlined. Whereas the social accounting project has been largely focused on calling for better quality corporate reporting of socio-environmental interactions, one can infer that the ideals underlying the social accounting project extend beyond this and imply a more participative democracy and some sort of change in the balance of power within society. However, evidence suggests that the information being produced by corporations falls far short of encouraging any sort of substantive dialogue over the role of the corporation in society. This is picked up upon in the subsequent section which introduces Gramsci’s theory of hegemony and seeks to locate corporate social accounting within that theoretical framework. Drawing from the Gramscianwork ofDavid Levy in particular, social accounting and CSR are conceptualised as overlapping elements of an integrated strategy to accommodate social and political pressures. More specifically, the work of Livesey (2001, 2002a, 2002b), Livesey and Kearins (2002), Milne et al. (2005, 2006) and Tregidga and Milne (2006) is referred to in order to draw attention to the way in which corporate social accounting ideologises corporate sustainability and essentially closes off debate around the role of the corporation in society. In the fourth section the dialectic between the economic base of society (capital accumulation) and the superstructures (of which accounting is one manifestation) is introduced. There it is argued that because of their strong links to capital markets, corporations have limited discretion to behave responsibly in the first instance and to be transparent about their irresponsibility and partiality in the second. Attempts to reform corporations through regulation will also, it is argued, be unlikely to succeed in giving corporations sufficient discretion to prioritise social and environmental concerns. Thus, an emancipatory social accounting cannot be expected to come from corporations. The fifth section of the papermoves on to describe different types of social accounting that are undertaken by civil society. The paper outlines the nature of some of the ‘anti-accounts’ undertaken by civil society organisations that attempt to depict a very different view of the socio-environmental effects of corporate activity than that projected by corporate social accounting. Described here also are those civil society accounts that work with corporate imagery and corporate social accounting in order to subtly debunk the original message. Adbusting and culture jamming are referred to as examples of civil society social accounting that seek to correct the identities of corporations. The final part of the fifth section reflects on some of the accounts offered by academics that critique corporate social accounting and tentatively considers how those accounts might successfully connect organically with wider civil society. Finally, the paper concludes by arguing that the civil society social accounting described in the paper has an emancipatory nature that is often overlooked by social accounting scholars and calls for a ‘civil society turn’ in the social accounting project if the project is to realise its emancipatory possibilities.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
Social accounting and CSR are implicated in stabilising the current historical bloc and maintaining the hegemony of business. Levy (1997) notes that corporations have “accommodated the environmental challenge through compromise and co-option, ameliorating their environmental impact sufficiently to blunt serious challenge to their hegemonic position” (Levy, 1997, p. 131). In this sense, corporate social accounting is implicated in a process that is counter-productive to the social accounting project’s aims of accountability and democracy. However, this does not imply that the social accounting project has failed, nor that social accounting does not have a role in emancipation. On the contrary, social accounting might be one of the key practices in shaking civil society out of its public relations-induced, consumerist slumber and in forming a countervailing power out of the fragmented demos. Presuming that the demos cannot do this without a paternalistic push from corporations is both unlikely in the first instance and potentially anti-democratic and elitist in the second (Everett, 2004). Gramsci’s dialectical view of the relation between base and superstructure implies that the latter is not a mere logical consequence of the former. Rather, the base can be influenced by the superstructure. Social accounting can realise its emancipatory potential if it can construct and disseminate new ideologies,9 if it is concerned with exposing and addressing social and environmental problems rather than obfuscating and perpetuating these. Given the limited discretion that corporations have to diverge from the interests of the economic base, the more autonomous elements of civil society may be the most appropriate change agents in enacting an emancipatory accounting. Such a reawakening of civil society may demand a change in focus for social accounting academics, looking to build accountability relationships from the ground up (Cooper, 2002; Cooper et al., 2005; Lehman, 1999, 2002). From a Gramscian perspective we are inescapably engaged in a war of position with business. The move to a more socially and environmentally conscious historic bloc will not come about of its own accord. Rather, it may require incremental measures that take into account the structural limitations of the current historic bloc at the same time as developing strategies for more radical change (Levy and Newell, 2005). When faced with resource rich adversaries, intelligent agency and strategy can exploit the dynamic nature of social systems in order to gain ground. The war of position is a long-term strategy “co-ordinated across multiple bases of power, to gain influence in the cultural institutions of society, develop organisational capacity, and to win new allies. As in a game of chess, power lies not just in the playing pieces, but in the configuration of forces relative to each other and to adversaries, and each set of moves and countermoves opens up new fissures and presents fresh possibilities to prise open the seams of a historic bloc” (Levy and Newell, 2005, p. 51). The anti-accounts and debunking activities of civil society organisations are attempts to prise open the historic blocal by exposing its contingency and the interests that sustain it. In this sense the civil society accounts outlined here are diametrically opposed to corporate social accounting’s intention to shield the current historical bloc from critique. Corporate social accounting moves us in the opposite direction of where we need to go, further entrenching the status quo by the disingenuous discursive alignment of business concerns with notions of the public interest and environmental sustainability. In turn, this wins business new allies and allows it to gain influence in the cultural consciousness of civil society. Activist accounts that debunk corporate rhetoric expose these hegemonic processes and also highlight the social and environmental dislocations that are engendered by corporate activity. Purely by highlighting these dislocations, the possibility of the ideological bases of the historical bloc becoming dislocated increases.With dislocation comes the need for a new historical bloc. Capitalism has proven to be adequately skilled in re-articulating the historical bloc in ways that do not threaten the basic modus operandi of business and markets. The changes that have come from business constitute only second order concessions (Levy and Egan, 2003). As long as business led processes of superficial change persist we are left to experience the frustration of Gramsci’s paradox: the old order appears to be dying yet the new order cannot quite be born. It is clear that a substantively new historical bloc will not be handed down to us by business. It is incumbent upon civil society to transcend the structural constraints that prevent ‘the people’ from emerging as an historical actor (Laclau, 2005) and actively construct a new historical bloc from the ground up. This represents a fundamental challenge to the social accounting project. Future research might look at ways in which civil society accounting not only critiques corporate behaviour but actively is, or can be used in, the formation of a countervailing power. If the social accounting project is to be geared towards emancipation then, from the Gramscian perspective presented here, it must take a ‘civil society’ turn and start to think about ways in which accounting can contribute to an invigorated public sphere outwith the direct influence of the economic base.