Accounting is the practice of measuring, documenting, and reporting on the economic dimensions of an organization, institution, or activity. Traditional views of accounting see it as a value-free technique to provide information for decision-making, and as such, compliance with standard accounting practices bestows legitimacy. In the 1970s and 1980s, critiques of the view of accounting as a neutral tool for rational decision-making emerged. These critical studies of accounting identified ways in which accounting was constitutive of reality rather than reflective, submerged conflicts and depoliticized internal relationships under a unitary image of the entity, provided tools of visibility that contributed to the establishment of Scientific Management and later the expansion of the neo-liberal order, and reinforced current power and gender relations. Along with critical analysis of existing accounting practices and structures, research has also identified moments of resistance within organizations and societies and investigated emerging alternative frameworks for accounting such as Emancipatory Accounting, Social Accounting, and Critical Dialogic Accounting and Accountability. Among the questions raised by this body of work are whether current accounting logic can support alternate forms of social organization, whether economic activity can be managed without concepts that devalue intersubjectivity and complex relationships, and whether a different social order would need tools other than accounting. Approaches to these questions might rely on the tools of historical research and case study that have been the foundation for critical studies of accounting but could also expand into experimental techniques and a renewed effort to develop theoretical frameworks.

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