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University of Exeter Business School

Accounting, Accounts and Accountability: examining its everyday use

Module titleAccounting, Accounts and Accountability: examining its everyday use
Module codeBEAM068
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Stephen Jollands (Convenor)

Professor John Burns (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module examines the importance of accounting, accounts and accountability (the “3As”) in everyday society. The 3As are significant aspects of day-to-day life, they shape much of what organisations and powerful individuals represent, underpin situations that we see and hear about in the daily news, and a great deal more. They are prevalent and frequently taken-for-granted concepts within the world in which we live. This module will investigate the multiple characteristics and consequences of the 3As in their broad (e.g., social, economic, political) context and tease out important aspects of 3As through considering topical and real-world issues, plus drawing also on different theorisation. Students will gain critically-oriented insight ‘beyond the numbers’ of accounting, accounts and accountability. Although this module builds on knowledge attained in studying module BEAM025 “Advanced Management Accounting”, it also covers topics which, to varying degrees, feature across other MSc Accounting & Finance modules, such as financial reporting, other corporate reporting such as social and environmental accounts and natural capital accounting, auditing, taxation and governance. 

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims for students to increase their knowledge of the importance of accounting, accounts and accountability (the 3As) in everyday life, as well as applying such knowledge in planning, researching and writing a critical literature review on a contemporary (3As-related) topic. The 3As are everywhere in everyone’s life: name any issue in today’s world news and it would be possible to identify the 3A’s relevance to that issue. This module explores how accounting, accounts and accountability are of much greater significance than ‘being about the financial numbers’. We will look into the ‘messy reality’, tensions (+ more) of the 3As.

This module will equip students with transferable skills that are valued by prospective employers. They will learn how to plan, undertake investigative research for, and write-up a critical literature review. Moreover, as well as producing a substantial piece of final work, this module will enhance students’ knowledge of, and capacity to critically appraise key world issues and problems where the 3As become paramount.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Analyse and critically evaluate the different roles of accounting, accounts and accountability (3As) in organisations, and in society more generally.
  • 2. Carry out in-depth search and critically analyse extant literature on broad, non-technical aspects of accounting, accounts and accountability.
  • 3. Define, debate and critically appraise the complex and changeable concepts of accounting, accounts and accountability.
  • 4. Demonstrate an understanding of how and why accounting, accounts and accountability become implicated in important, everyday issues and problems.
  • 5. Identify and critically appraise multiple consequences of the design and use (or non-use) of accounting, accounts and accountability.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Compare and distinguish multiple theoretical perspectives of the use and role(s) of accounting, accounts and accountability in organisations, and in society more generally.
  • 7. Recognise key philosophical differences between alternative theories of accounting, accounts and accountability.
  • 8. Explore potential cross-theory overlaps and synergies, in critically appraising the extant literature on accounting, accounts and accountability in their broader (e.g., social, economic, political) context.
  • 9. Integrate new literature findings with existing knowledge, attained in this module and in previous other modules.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 10. Manage time through an intensive module.
  • 11. Work independently and, occasionally, in small groups.
  • 12. Identify interesting research topics, and explain why it is interesting.
  • 13. Construct a clear research purpose, and design an appropriate work-plan.
  • 14. Assess a plethora of different literature(s), in line with the chosen review topic.
  • 15. Decipher relevant aspects of the literature for the research purpose at hand.
  • 16. Identify important themes from a literature review, relating to the research purpose.
  • 17. Critically appraise the literature reviewed, in relation to the research purpose.
  • 18. Write clearly, well-structured, and with a critical and questioning angle.

Syllabus plan

There is intensive module delivery in early June, immediately following the May exam period, comprising 2 weeks of classes (Monday to Friday, 4-hour daily, mornings to early afternoon). A reasonable number of readings, and next-day preparation will also be assigned at the end of most class sessions. Class will be a mixture of (1) lectures on topical issues which incorporate a 3As angle, (2) workshop-style sessions to discuss lecture topics in greater depth, (3) presentation and debates on planning, undertaking and writing-up a critical literature review, and (4) time set aside for student Q&As. Following this initial 2 weeks, students will then work independently. During weeks 3 and 4, there will be 2 ‘Discussion and Q&A’ sessions (one hour each, mandatory), plus faculty office hours (non-mandatory), to offer advice to students on their work-in-progress. A draft literature review (of length 3,750 words, minimum) will be submitted by the end of June, and students will promptly receive detailed feedback from the module convenors. Students will then have an additional 2.5 weeks in which to independently complete their final literature review (of length 7500 words, maximum), submitting in mid-July.

In class sessions, as well as covering the significance of 3As in topical world issues, students will also be taught how to plan, research and write a critical literature review. Students will not be required to determine their own literature review topic. Rather, they will be given a considerable choice of topic areas, and will carry out a critical review of the relevant literature in their chosen area. These literature reviews can take different forms, about which plenty of advice will be given in class. For instance, but by no means a full list, some literature reviews involve identifying gaps in a particular literature, others might compare between academic and practice-oriented literature for a particular topic area, and others might review different theories in a particular research topic area.

The variety of options available for the students’ assessed work, both in terms of the available topics and the different types of literature review possible, enables students to select a written project which really engages them. So long as students are prepared to put in the effort, including full in-class attendance during the initial 2 weeks, and undertake the assigned readings, there is potential for all to do well in this module. Through studying for this module, students will gain valuable and transferable skills in terms of planning, researching and writing a critical literature review. Moreover, the end result represents a focused piece of written work, something that students can be proud of, and even impress their future employer!

Indicative content – GeneralThemes, non-exhaustive list

We will be exploring the use and importance of accounting, accounts and accountability (3As)  in such contexts as:

  • Globalisation (e.g., economy, competition, politics)
  • Sustainable development (e.g., environment, climate change, homelessness, poverty)
  • Marketisation (e.g., capitalism, society values, powerful elites)
  • Public services (e.g., hospitals, universities, police)
  • Technology (e.g., big data, digital, artificial intelligence)
  • Popular culture (e.g., sport, music, social media)

Indicative content – Specific Topics and Investigations, non-exhaustive list

The general themes (above) will be covered as much as possible via investigation of specific real-life topics and situations. By no means an exhaustive list, and always subject to change as new ‘hot topics’ arise, examples of such topics, might include:

  • How important are accounts and accountability in popular culture such as social media platforms?
  • Who or what is accountable to the vulnerable in societies such as the homeless and refugees?
  • Is English premier football a resounding success or does it avoid non-financial accountability?
  • How impactful are big global organisations in driving more sustainability in how we live?
  • Should children be paid cash by their schools, as incentive to read more books (@ parts of the USA)?
  • Is the use of performance metrics the ‘best’ way to manage a university and its faculty?

Indicative content – Research skills, non-exhaustive list

In this module students will be taught various aspects of planning, researching for, and writing up a critical literature review in a particular topic area. Aspects covered include:

  • Development of a research purpose and aims
  • Literature searches
  • Types of literature reviews
  • Structuring and focusing literature reviews
  • Effective reading of literature
  • Research writing
  • Critical analysis of extant literature

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning & Teaching activities - In-class contact hours10 days x 4 hours = 40 hours2 consecutive weeks of in-class sessions: a mixture of lectures, workshops and Q&As (mandatory - registers will be taken)
Scheduled Learning & Teaching activities - Discussion and Q&A 2 x 1 hour = 2 hoursStudents can ask (and share) their queries on their work-in-progress literature review (mandatory - register will be taken)
Guided independent study258Private study with remote support. Convenors will set aside some hours, up to the submission of a draft literature review, for students to discuss their work-in-progress on a one-to-one basis (non-mandatory)

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Draft full literature reviewup to 7,500 words, but a minimum of 3,750 words 1-18Detailed feedback (via email)

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Final full literature review 1007,500 words (maximum)1-18Generic feedback, posted on ELE

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Full literature review New submission of a full literature review, 7,500 words (maximum).1-18Submission in December (exact date to be advised)

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

General (Accounting, Accounts, Accountability), illustration-only:

  • Baxter, J. and Chua, W-F. (2003) ‘Alternative management accounting research – whence and whither’, Accounting, Organizations and Society, 28, pp.97-126.
  • Burchell, S., Clubb, C., Hopwood, A., & Hughes, J. (1980). The roles of accounting in organizations and society. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 5, pp.5-27.
  • Hopwood, A. (1994). Accounting in everyday lives: an introduction, Accounting, Organisations and Society, 19(3), pp.299-301.
  • Miller, P. (1998). The margins of accounting, The Sociological Review, 46(1), pp.174-93.
  • Miller, P. and Power, M. (2013). Accounting, organizing and economizing, The Academy of Management Annals, 7(1), pp.557-605.

Topics/Issues-related, illustration-only:

  • Bebbington, J., Russell, S. and Thomson, I. (2017), "Accounting and sustainable development: Reflections and propositions", Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Vol. 48, pp. 21-34.
  • Cooper, C. and Johnston, J. (2012), Vulgate accountability: insights from the field of football, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 25(4), pp.602-34.
  • Cooper, C. and Lapsley, I. (2019), Hillsborough: the fight for accountability, Critical Perspectives on Accounting, in press.
  • Gray, R. (2010). Is accounting for sustainability actually accounting for sustainability...and how would we know? An exploration of narratives of organisations and the planet. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 35(1), 47-62.
  • Gray, R., Dey, C., Owen, D., Evans, R. and Zadek, S. (1997), "Struggling with the praxis of social accounting: Stakeholders, accountability, audits and procedures", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 325-364.
  • Gray, R., Owen, D. and Adams, C. (1996), Accounting & accountability : changes and challenges in corporate social and environmental reporting Prentice Hall, London : New York
  • Jeacle, I. (2012), Accounting and popular culture: framing a research agenda, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 25(4), pp.580-601.
  • Jollands, S., & Quinn, M. (2017). Politicising the sustaining of water supply in Ireland – the role of accounting concepts. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 30(1), 164-190.
  • Merry, S. E. (2016), The Seductions of Quantification: Measuring Human Rights, Gender Violence, and Sex Trafficking University of Chicago Press Chicago, London.
  • Messner, M. (2009), "The limits of accountability", Accounting, Organizations and Society, Vol. 34 No. 8, pp. 918-938.
  • Milne, M. J. (2013). Phantasmagoria, sustain-a-babbling in social and environmental reporting. In L. Jack, J. Davison & R. Craig (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Accounting Communication (pp. 135-153). London: Routledge
  • Roberts, J. (2009), "No one is perfect: The limits of transparency and an ethic for 'intelligent' accountability", Accounting, Organizations and Society, Vol. 34 No. 8, pp. 957.
  • Sandel, M. (2012), What money can’t buy: the moral limits of markets, London: Penguin books.
  • Unerman, J., Bebbington, J. and O’Dwyer, B. (2018), Corporate reporting and accounting for externalities, Accounting and Business Research, 48(5), pp.497-522.
  • Wilkinson, R., & Pickett, K. (2010). The spirit level: why equality is better for everyone. London: Penguin.
Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module co-requisites

BEAM079 Coding Analytics for Accounting and Finance

NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date