Since 1958, I have been mercilessly pointing out things that bug me, to anyone who will listen.
Since 2001, I've been trying to channel this core competence into a more careful critique of society. That was the year I began my PhD in accounting, after a 20-year career in information systems. Now I am an accounting professor at the Schulich School of Business in Toronto.
Why accounting? Because no matter what happens in this world, accounting is always involved. This means I can study pretty much any social issue. Looking at the role of accounting in these issues gives me a different perspective than other experts. Whether my perspective is helpful is really for others to decide.
My research is about accounting and poverty. I figure there are enough accounting scholars looking at the capital markets, where money is piled high. I decided to look where money is scarce, at poverty in its various guises. My reasons for this decision have to do with my father's death while I was doing my PhD, and with my experiences in seminary in the early 1980s, where I was exposed to liberation theology and learned a concern for social justice. My motivations are no longer theological, but the concern for social justice has stuck.
As an accounting scholar, I've studied old age pensions. They are a great example of how accounting can be used to address a potential cause of poverty. I've studied the history of our Department of Indian Affairs, where accounting was instrumental in Canada's (continuing) attempt to subjugate the First Nations. With some amazing co-authors, I've studied homelessness in the UK, microfinance in Sri Lanka, and multinational companies operating in Mali. The topics are never simple. Accounting gives me a handle on them.
As you will see in the "Theory" section of this website, I draw on a number of important theories and methods relevant to critical accounting research. The chief of these is linguistic theory, which means looking at the way language constitutes the world. Accounting is one of our languages, a mighty peculiar one that expresses some things quite well but leaves out a lot. It is useful for certain purposes, and so it is widely used. Understand those purposes and you understand accounting. Understand accounting and you understand the world in new ways.
My linguistic theory approach to accounting builds on the work of people like Jean Baudrillard, Richard Rorty and Norman Macintosh. I also draw heavily on Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Hardt & Negri, and Judith Butler. These are all what are called postmodern or post-structuralist scholars. I find their way of looking at the world wonderfully disruptive of my preconceptions. I talk more about them and their theoretical perspectives in the Theory section. In the Practice sections, you can read insights derived from my various research projects.
Some of my Published Research Topics
- World Bank
- First Nations
- Algoma Steel
- Canada Pension Plan
- Old age pensions after World War I
- Government annuities for the elderly
- Post-colonial management in Mali
- The cost of airline travel to remote First Nations communities in Ontario
- Employment for people with disabilities in India, Bangladesh and Nepal
- Microfinance in Sri Lanka
In my so-called spare time, I serve as Treasurer and Past Chair the Canadian Abilities Foundation, which publishes Abilities magazine. This organization is dedicated to changing the way Canadians think about disability.
The Executive Director of CAF is the incredible Caroline Tapp-McDougall, from whom I have learned so much about entrepreneurial thinking and creative energy.
CAF was founded in 1986 by the late Raymond D. Cohen, a true trailblazer in the field of disability. Ray's grasp of social innovation was years ahead of everyone else.
Check out Abilities today! The magazine has surpassed 100 quarterly issues, an incredible achievement in the Canadian magazine industry. You can subscribe and make a charitable donation at www.abilities.ca.
Photograph of the author courtesy of Graduate Business Council, Schulich School of Business