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About Accounting and Accountability

“Accountability is a cherished concept, sought after but elusive.”
Sinclair, A. (1995)

When we are talking about accountability, we usually mean that someone is accountable for particular action. We also have certain expectations about what a particular person or organization should be able to do. In the field of accounting, accountability is often related to the shareholders. However, demands for greater public accountability have increased. Organizations are expected to be accountable for their actions to a broader circle of stakeholders like employees and citizens as well as to future generations.

Accounting creates presence, accountability, and visibility. By defining something, we create a presence and at the same time we are defining reality. In the critical stream of accounting research, it is suggested that accounting is not an innocent technique. The reality may not necessarily be a “whole” reality because the language of accounting can also be used to persuade of a particular view of reality. (Hines, R. D. 1988)

Accounting depends also on an entity assumption, which plays a key role in the construction of organizational life. This entity assumption constructs those boundaries and frames permeability in terms of what counts and is accounted for. In this way it constructs what is inside and outside of the organization. (Power, M. 2018)

The accounting research has been concerned with the presence of accounting. As a researcher I am interested in the properties of accounting and accounting absence (Catasús, B. 2008). One interesting area of “inside and outside of the organization” discussions are the off-balance sheet items, which are those assets and liabilities that do not appear in the organization’s balance sheet. The organization is accountable for these items but as accounting for the off-balance sheet activities can differ from one organization to another, it is difficult to assess the risks related to these activities. It is interesting to explore the concept of accountability and its development, the definitions of off-balance sheet activities as well as those challenges which are related to steering, controlling and reporting of these kind of activities.

 

Vuokko Mustonen
PhD student
School of Accounting and Finance

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