In Calgary

I'm at the University of Calgary today talking to colleagues about homelessness, social housing, and social return on investment. Calgary is an interesting setting because a few years ago, the city declared its intention to "end homelessness in 10 years."

These sorts of ambitious goals are great at generating attention to problems of poverty, but I always worry what it means to say you have "ended" a complex social problem. I do hope that Calgary ends homelessness, but one always has to be careful that the underlying causes of poverty are addressed. Otherwise, the socioeconomic system just produces more poor people, but with a different manifestation of poverty.

Calgary is doing great work in this area, and one of the reasons I'm here is to learn from the people leading the effort. Check out the Calgary Homeless Foundation to learn more about what is happening here.

Alternative Accounts

Today I'm at the Alternative Accounts Conference in Ottawa. This boutique conference started out as a workshop run by a handful of critical scholars at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta, over 10 years ago. David Cooper and Dean Neu were the ringleaders. It was my first exposure to scholarly accounting discussions outside a classroom setting.

Today, the conference is hosted by a fine group of critical accounting scholars at the University of Ottawa, including my co-author Darlene Himick. It's a three-day event now, complete with a doctoral colloquium.

In the academic world, it's important to recognize your tribe, and to feel that sense of belonging that comes from reuniting with those who share your values. This is my tribe. The challenge is for the tribe to stay open to other perspectives and continually strive to break down ideological barriers. Inquiry is a moral activity, not just an epistemological one.

The beginnings of a new website


As an academic, I get constant pressure to be relevant and practical. To have an impact! Personally, I don't think that's the point of academic research. I think universities exist not just to train people to get jobs, but to create a space for reflection and the pursuit of ideas.

There are plenty of places in society where you can do practical stuff. In corporations, nonprofit organizations, and the public sector, work is supposed to be practical. For the most part, it probably is.

Universities are different. We need them to be different so that we have a richer society, a more complex fabric for our shared lives. We need them to provide the space for doing things that don't have a cost/benefit analysis attached to them.

You may think this is strange coming from an accounting professor. Stay tuned! I hope to show not only that I am an unusual accounting professor, but that accounting is a lot more than people think. It plays a rich and textured role in constituting our society, shaping the way we address problems and even more fundamentally, what we identify as a problem worth addressing.

Over the next weeks and months, I want to roll out, piece by piece, a website that will help people think differently about the world around them. My approach is based on certain principles related to how the world works, certain methods of doing interesting research, and certain topics that I have had the privilege of examining with my wonderful colleagues and co-authors.

Much of my work is grounded in linguistic theory, which sees the world as one where meaning is produced through language. Hence, the name of the website, Reading the World.

I have no idea what people will do with these ideas. I have no agenda, and certainly no desire to tell people that they should think like me. I only want to offer this as one of the many possible ways of thinking differently about the world. As Richard Rorty suggested, what we are after is not consensus but proliferation.* Not the lowest common denominator, but the richest set of ideas to play with.

Cameron Graham, PhD
Schulich School of Business
York University
Toronto, Canada


* Rorty, R. (1991). Science as solidarity. Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers (Vol. 1, pp. 35-45). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.