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1. What makes neoclassical economics attractive?
I think neoclassical economics is attractive to mainstream accountants (academics and practitioners) because it lends a misplaced “aura of objectivity” to their work – helping to rationalise their focus on shareholder wealth maximization and capital markets.  Broader economic, social and environmental impacts are construed as “externalities” that lie “outside” accounting’s boundaries.  A large part of the strength of neoclassical economics arguably comes from its hegemonic position in university business schools and economics departments more generally.  Students are taught that both NCE and mainstream accounting are “neutral” and “objective”– and are rarely exposed to alternative perspectives.  It is thus hardly surprising that accountants are often very unreflective about the way business-oriented frames affect what they see and report, and have difficulty including viewpoints that contradict or go beyond their assumptions.  All of this is very corrosive of democracy – contributing to a “there is no alternative” (TINA) technocratic mentality evident in much political decision-making.  I am also currently trying to think about neoclassical economics “grip” on accounting through Jason Glynos and David Howarth’s work on “fantasmatic logics” – see Logics of Critical Explanation in Social and Political Theory.

2. Challenges, roles and limits of an accounting for sustainability
A two-pronged approach is required for any accounting that wants to help realize sustainability.  Firstly a critique of mainstream accounting and its roots in neoclassical economics.  Much of this work has already been done by critical accountants, although much more could be done to critique through the lens of democracy.   This would help take debates into the civil society realm.  Secondly, there is much work to be done in (re)imagining accounting and economics.  Like Peter Söderbaum, I strongly favour a critical pluralist approach to both critique and reimagining, linked to conceptions of democracy.  I am currently working with colleagues to try to “rethink” accounting utilizing contemporary work in political theory based on concepts of agonistic and aversive democracy.  This provides, for example, a theoretical base from which to develop new understandings of counter-accountings and agonistic learning and dialogue.  I strongly believe this task cannot be left to accountants alone.  It is very much a pluridiscplinary exercise, that also needs to be linked to the potential beneficiaries of new approaches.  To this end, my colleagues and I are currently exploring methodologies based on participatory action research and new media technologies.  I was also very interested in Eva Kras’s earlier comments and pointer to Iain McGilchrist’s book – accounting is very much dominated by left brain thinking.
3.    Pluralism’s possibilities, impediments and opportunities
As noted above, like Peter Söderbaum, I strongly favour a critical pluralist approach – the “critical” is important to protect against a naïve relativism.  A basic aim is to present accounting (and economics) as a contested terrain.  Rather than seeking to transcend difference through universal norms (in the way a deliberative democrat might do – although I am mindful here that there are many variants of deliberative democracy), the aim is to combine respect for difference and particularity, with democratic struggles against domination.  In terms of ways forward, I think a push back against the monologism of accounting and neoclassical economics is crucial.  I am particularly pleased to see new journals like the International Journal of Pluralism in Economics Education – this provides valuable and stimulating material to take into classroom discussions.  As noted above, I think much more crossdisciplinary work also needs to be done, together with the development of civil society connections.  For all sorts of reasons (e.g. habits, sedimented practices, power relations), change is clearly not a straightforward task.

4.     Dialogic accountings – a possible new way into democracy?
In accounting terms, I favour dialogic forms of accounting that can deal with plurality, ambiguity, uncertainty and the value-ladeness of knowledge; that recognise and cultivate less reductionist forms of expertise; and assist decision-makers and citizens to engage in wide-ranging social and political debate about organisational and societal matters. This is very much at variance with the singular model of “rational economic man” on which economics and accounting is currently based which channels thinking, reasoning and decision-making unreflectively down a uni-dimensional path.  Here again I find Peter Söderbaum’s notion of “political economic person” very attractive.   I think it, along with his ideas about positional analysis,  can go a long way in helping us imagine new institutions, processes, and methods for dealing openly with the normative questions currently excluded by technocratic approaches. It helps to (re)surface the “political” in political economy/economics and helps us to resist the temptation to replace one form of monologism with another.

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