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Accounts of Nature and the Nature of Accounts

Research Cluster

Speaker:Markus J. Milne, The University of Canterbury
Date: Monday 10 October 2016
Time: 10:30
Location: ESI Trevithick room

Further details

This paper explores, examines and critiques the practices and innovations that make visible (and invisible) the impacts and interconnections of humans, and their organizations, in non-human worlds. In this project, we take the very widest of notions of ‘account’ and ‘account giving’ (e.g., Scott & Lyman, 1968; Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006) and we take the widest view of notions of nature, natural and nature-society relations (e.g., Castree, 2005; 2013). The project encompasses three main aspects: a re-examination of extant attempts to produce ecological accounts, account giving and accountability; an exploration of new and alternative forms of accounts and account giving; and an exploration of the ways in which academic knowledge is produced as part of critical engagement with theory and the practice of ‘accounting’ for socio-ecological change.

Firstly, we seek to revisit, question and critique the notion of organizational environmental accountability (Hopwood, 2009). Given three decades of environmental and sustainability reporting, the emergence of carbon and water accounting, reporting for biodiversity, and increasing references to natural capital and its quantification, it seems timely to revisit the warnings of the harmful effects of accounting and accountants’ involvement (e.g., Maunders and Burritt, 1991; Hines 1988, 1991; Gray 1992; Cooper, 1992; Shearer, 2002; Milne, 1996; 2007).

Secondly, we wish to encourage exploration of alternative forms of account-giving – as accounting innovations - that might increase the visibility of our socio-ecological interdependencies. We are particularly interested in forms of account-giving that challenge conventional notions of accounting and environmental accounting, that seek to de-centre organizations as accounting loci, and that privilege incommensurability and plurality of values through narratives, images, storytelling (including written, verbal and visual), and other forms of communication, as well as those that seek to offer more formal scientific and quantified (financial and non-financial) accounts.

Thirdly, we wish to encourage investigation of the impacts of accounting innovations and accountability practices on efforts to conserve and protect socio-ecological systems. What is made visible and invisible? What is framed in and what is framed out by various forms of account and account giving, and by whom? And, with what effects? What is drawn into focus, what and who is marginalized, and to whose benefit? Who or what is enabled, and to whose benefit?

An increasingly recognised component of environmentalism, nature and sustainability is their discursive nature (Simmons, 1997; Castree, 2005; Braun & Castree, 1998; Hannigan, 2005; Dryzek, 1997; Soule & Lease, 1995; Herndl & Brown, 1996). Nature/environment is not just out there to be discovered by a separate, independent, unbiased human observer; it is in here, in our heads, our hearts and our consciousness: it is constructed, invented, framed, interpreted, discussed, embodied and argued for by feeling, interested and emotive subjects (Hajer, 1995; Brulle, 2000, 2002; Myerson & Rydin, 1996; Macnaghten & Urry, 1998). Present, past and future relations between human and non-human worlds form the basis for on-going discursive (and extradiscursive) constructions, claims and counter-claims (Macnaghten & Urry, 1998). And, as many taking a discursive approach have noted, meanings and values are threshed out in competing discourses and experiences (Hajer, 1995; Macnaghten & Urry, 1998).

We believe there are benefits to re-conceptualising environmental accountability as a series of fluid moments of account giving. Accounts and counter-accounts around moments or sites of (discursive) contest provide attractive points of focus for analysis (Whatmore 2009). They open up possibilities to consider alternative forms of accounts and accountability. They provide opportunities to challenge traditional forms of instrumental and calculative reason. In turn, they offer generative possibilities (Whatmore 2013). This project wishes to open up and grapple with concepts of accounts, the giving and receiving of accounts, and accountability, the use and exploitation of the natural world and animals, and its resistance. We anticipate this project will raise accounts of, inter alia: economic surplus, land use and landscape transformation, water usage and discharge, the impacts of mechanized and industrialized processes, biodiversity loss, ecological restoration, animal welfare (behaviour and pathology), as well as evoking accounts of nature, wilderness and what constitutes natural. We anticipate accounts will come from a range of interests, focus on a range of issues, draw on a wide basis of beliefs and values, and utilize a variety of means and media to articulate and communicate them.

Bio: Markus J. Milne is Professor of Accounting in the School of Business and Economics at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. In the late 1980s after postgraduate studies at the University of Lancaster, he emigrated to work at the University of Otago, Dunedin. Previously Professor of Accounting at Otago, he moved to Canterbury in 2006.  He studied accounting and finance at both Middlesex and at Lancaster. Driven by a boyhood love of the outdoors, nature, and a sense of justice, over the past 20 years he has developed a critical research agenda investigating the social and environmental impacts of organisations, and the means by which they account for and communicate those impacts.

Since his first publication in 1991 in a special issue on ‘Green Accounting’, Markus has sought to understand and critique modern organisations’ relationships with the natural environment. He has published over 80 papers and book chapters, and his work is widely cited in the field. His work has appeared in Accounting Organisations & Society; Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, Business & Society; Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Management Accounting Research, Accounting and Business Research, Organization, Journal of Business Ethics, and Organization & Environment.  In 2009, he and his co-authors received the Mary Parker Follet award for best paper in volume 22 of Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal. The paper had previously been recognised with the Organizations and Natural Environment (ONE) division award at the 2008 Academy of Management Meetings.    

Markus currently serves as Associate Editor of the British Accounting Review, and previously as Accounting Editor for the Journal of Business Ethics. He advises on a further 10 international editorial boards. Markus has also acted as a guest co-editor for special issues of Accounting Auditing and Accountability Journal one of which he is currently editing on Ecological Accounts.  The 2012 AAAJ special issue on Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Accounting (with Suzana Grubnic) received the outstanding special issue award from Emerald Publishing.