April 06 2020

Is Accounting Just A Technical Practice Or Has A Social And Moral Perspective?

As far as accounting education is concerned, when accounting is perceived just as a technical practice, the only question that arises is "How to do accounting?" However, when accounting is perceived as social and moral practice, the key questions that arise are "What does accounting do?" and "What should accounting do?" Students, educators and professional programs need to respond to all these questions. Accounting needs to be studied, understood and practised in the contexts in which it operates, also simultaneously appreciating the impact of accounting in its contexts.

Accounting practice is seriously distorted as most people see accounting just as a technical practice without any social and moral perspective. Accounting however is a practice that underlies and enables organizational action and much of human activity. In this way, accounting is fundamentally a social practice, which guides and influences the behaviour of people in an organization and society as a whole.

We need to understand the full dimensions of accounting to know that morality in accounting; is at its core and how it cannot be adequately understood as a purely instrumental or technical pursuit. A moral practice can be understood as a practice whose actions helps to shape the moral order of organizations and societies, which in turn affects individual and organizational behaviours.

The world that we live in is virtually surrounded by charts, and numerical figures. A state of mind where we are comfortable to consider, trust or even respect performance figures for assessment of facts, organizations or individuals of any order. Now, this is where the detailed practical aspects of accounting become a major tool in governing our lives and shaping our behaviours and future. Accounting makes the objects and activities that are at the centre of management tangible and assessable. These factual representations make it unchallenged and objectified.

In modern times, accounting directs and governs organizations, economies and societies. The social dimension of accounting enables its moral dimension to emerge and erase the falsehood of accounting as an amoral endeavour. These aspects of accounting as technical practice, social practice and moral practice constitute the full dimensions of accounting.

Considering the full accounting dimensions, accounting cannot be perceived as mere technique or tool. That would ignore the social and moral dimensions of the practice. An accountant as a professional has to possess and use expertise, as well as make professional and moral judgements. Accounting practice has to have ends as well as means.

Fortunately, a conscious accounting professional has an opportunity to become more accountable for its effects. Focusing on accounting's social and moral impacts would bring a new dimension to performance measurement and management. The impacts of accounting relate to both intended and unintended consequences. While the intended consequences are generally imagined and may be estimated, the unintended consequences, which may be negative or positive, are often given little or no thought by accountants.

In the broader interest of extending and enhancing accountability, professional accountants need to become more mindful of the impacts of performance measures adopted and so reported. Furthermore, professional accountants are expected to possess a broad vision of the impacts of what accounting touches and changes, including the consequences, whether intended or not.