Accounting, Organisations and Society

Module description

Name anything that is ‘in the news’ and I can show you the accounting, the accounts and the accountability in it!  For instance, think of a government’s austerity measures, problems in prisons, increase in street crime, social media, fast-fashion and retail decline, the English Premiership football league, You-Tube vloggers, the financial crisis, universities, refugees, hospitals and health-care, sustainable development, climate change and much more. These things are all shaped by, and implicated in accounting, represented in accounts, and involving complex accountability relationships. Accounting, accounts and accountability constitute a significant role in organisations, and in society more generally, considerably more than a ’neutral’ bundle of techniques and reported information that informs and/or represents ‘best’ decision making processes. This module, influenced by leading-edge research, explores the multiple, complex and dynamic roles of accounting  in its broader (e.g. organisational, social and political) context. There will not be detailed focus on the ‘technical’ aspects of accounting – no calculations, no ‘number-crunching’. This module is a good choice for students who wish to locate and understand the roles and the importance of accounting, accounts and accountability in a holistic and changeable context. The module is not just suitable for accounting students, and prior exposure to accounting modules is by no means a mandatory pre-condition. This module is a good choice for tomorrow’s consultancy-type accountants, financially-astute business managers and political decision makers.

Full module specification

Module title:Accounting, Organisations and Society
Module code:BEA3027
Module level:3
Academic year:2019/0
Module lecturers:
  • Professor John Burns - Convenor
Module credit:15
ECTS value:






Duration of module: Duration (weeks) - term 2:


Module aims

The aim of the module is for students to become more aware of the roles and importance of accounting, accounts and accountability in contemporary organisations, and society in general. The predominant view of accounting is that it is an instrument which provides information to inform best and optimising managerial decisions, plus underpins complete and proper visibility of an organisation’s activities. In this module we challenge these assumptions and, in so doing, we will expose the power of accounting and accounts and we’ll be particularly critical of life situations where there is a distinct and questionable lack of accountability. Moreover, throughout the module we will explore moral and ethical aspects of how organisations use accounting techniques, represent their accounts, and play out their accountabilities, with a focus also on the consequences that these things have and the impact that such things have on the way we wish to live our lives.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Describe, compare, contrast, and critically evaluate key aspects of contemporary accounting, the use of accounts and accountability.
  • 2. Evaluate alternative and broader (e.g., organisational, social, political) contexts within which accounting operates, and the common drivers of accounting change.
  • 3. Critically appraise contemporary use of accounting techniques, common representations of accounts and accountability mechanisms.
  • 4. Evaluate traditional and more contemporary use and misuse of accounting, accounts and accountability, and the roles of those individuals and groups who steer and control such use.
  • 5. Critically evaluate and challenge alternative theoretical perspectives on accounting, accounts and accountability in their broader context.
  • 6. Discuss and critically assess contemporary research on accounting, accounts and accountability.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 7. Link and critically assess both research and practice-oriented perspectives on accounting, accounts and accountability.
  • 8. Discuss and articulate alternative perspectives on contemporary accounting, accounts and accountability issues in their broad context.
  • 9. Explain and, where necessary, rationalise such different perspectives (above) though theoretically-based arguments.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 10. Select and synthesise appropriate material from a range of sources, including academic, professional and popular literature and media.
  • 11. Analyse, communicate and present ideas, principles and evidence that support a reasoned and consistent argument.

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
Lectures1111 x 1hr Lectures (per week)
Workshop/tutorials189 x 2/week x 1hr
Independent study (1)5Group Presentation - preparation
independent study (2)10Group Executive Report - writing
Guided indenpendent study106Reading/ preparation for class

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
tWorkshops/Tutorials/Small groups – discussion, debate9weeks x 2/week x 1hr1-11Feedback via class discussion, including questions set

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
Group Presentation1525 mins (max) presentation1-11Verbal feedback in class; followed by group feedback sheets (also covering Exec Report)
Group Executive Report151500 words (max)1-11Feedback sheets (also covering group presentations)
Exam702 hours, comprising 2 essays from a choice of 41-11Generic comments via ELE

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Group presentation, Group Executive Report and ExamExam only (100%); 2 hours, comprising 2 essays from a choice of 41-11August Examination Period

Syllabus plan

An indicative list of topics to be covered in this module (non-exhaustive):

  • Accounting as a social, organisational and political practice
  • The changing landscape within which accounting operates
  • Accounts as a visibility tool for organizational activities, and the challenge of ‘invisibles’
  • Moral and ethical issues pertaining to (a lack of) organisational accountability
  • Theories of accounting, accounts and accountability in a broad (social, organisational, political) context
  • Accounting, accounts and accountability in the public sector (e.g., hospitals, universities, prisons, police, armed forces)
  • Accounting, accounts and accountability in popular culture (e.g., sports, music, social media, fashion)
  • Accounting, accounts and accountability in sustainable development (e.g., climate change, ecological footprints, natural capital accounting)
  • Accounting, accounts and accountability for ‘the Vulnerable’ (e.g., homelessness, slave labour)
  • Accounting change, and managing accounting change

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Text Book & Readings

There is no textbook for this module. The majority of readings will be academic journal articles (as advised). Where possible, there will be direct links to these articles via the module ELE site. Use will also be made of topical internet posts from news sites (e.g., BBC), other media sites, the popular press, and professional and practitioner literature.

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Other Resources

Lectures will be recorded, for revision purpose. Past evidence is clear, however, that attendance at lectures will, in the majority of cases, contribute towards higher marks in exams, presentations and reports. The same applies to attendance at tutorials, including others’ group presentations. All tutorial material (including topics for group presentations) is examinable in the main exam. Please note that tutorials will not be recorded; they are compulsory, and you are expected to participate in class discussion, and take appropriate notes.

Lecture slides will be posted on ELE at least 24 hours before the relevant lecture; tutorial exercises, set-readings, etc., will also be posted on ELE.

Origin date


Last revision date