How Can Accountants Save the World?
The workshop How can Accountants Save the World? alternated between collective reimagining exercises and presentations, and dwelled into the social constructivist nature of accounting and the effects and pervasive roles its language plays in our everyday lives. Nick McGuigan started by saying that the workshop would journey from the personal towards the collective through the interactive reimagining of money in explorations of new ways of participating in the economy that adopted permaculture ethics and design principles.
The audience was encouraged to publicly announce their “biggest concern or worry”. The answers showed that the idea of security exists within the concept of worry. The workshop then questioned these concerns and worries through the lens of permaculture, specifically with regards to food security and the trustability of money. Translating individual worries to collective ones made it clear that the question actually demands the consideration of larger concerns, such as the refugee crises, and the position of accounting within them. Here, technology is often used as a solution to connect different arenas, perhaps for the first time in history at this level.
The language of accounting allows a problematic understanding of profit: it is presented as a good thing that should be created more. Frank Jan de Graaf explained how these problematic understandings are created socially through the metaphor of accounting. He went on to say that to be able to discuss how to change this, money has to be seen as a social thing, created with each other, and not as a technical thing. Similarly, accounting is not a technical means: societies create accounting within them and with each other. The idea of figures directly representing reality is an incorrect assumption, they only represent themselves. However, figures and accounting are still commonly used to (perhaps falsely or incompletely) represent a reality. Understanding this mechanism can be useful in realization of the existence of different realities. If, with our accounting policies, we are creating certain realities, what could be alternative realities within this perspective?
We all are living in an economic monoculture orbiting around a space created by corporations. Our decision-making is determined by accounting and economic information. This is happening to an extend that the young are socializing with their peers on a cost versus benefit analysis and our language and concepts of economic monoculture are infiltrating health, education and arts. This infiltration highlights another complex question that was central to this workshop: “how can accountants save the world?” It is clear that we need to change the language of accounting towards one that is broader and much more holistic in its approach. We need to change the language of accounting to one of accountability! Education is the first step to take to be able to create more integrated individuals who can deal with the systemic issues that are at work in our societies.
If we change our focus from the large scale issues to more specific ones, the question becomes: “how do we reorganize a business not around profit but around something more holistic, more broad and contained?” Herman Gels suggested a helpful framework with the proposition of the threefold society. The notion of the threefold society splits reality into three fragments; the inner fragment, the social fragment and the physical fragment, all of which are happening all at the same time and cooperate with each other. The threefold society crosses over between legal and human entities, and allows us to think around how concepts like freedom, equality and fellowship can be applied to cultural, social and economic systems. In this way our financial reality, our habits of accounting and how we deal with money can start to reflect our social reality.
Thomas Kern, an independent management consultant, took the audience on an exploration of new frames of references, among them the previously discussed threefold society and permaculture. The latter one is a result from the changing of the language of accountancy to accountability. A permaculture is a self-maintaining and self-generating ecosystem. The effects and principles of permaculture were contrasted with commonly acted upon principles in today’s business world. The audience was then introduced to integrated reporting, a new form of corporate reporting, which enables the widening of the operational range to reliability on societal bases. This is an approach that uses the integrated and holistic ways of thinking of individuals. Here, a new reality is created through a different social construction and the audience is left with the image of transparent organizations making up neighborhoods of glass houses, for everyone to look into.