The Limits of Accountability


Accounting Organizations and Society

novembre 2009, vol. 34, n°8, pp.918-938

Départements : Comptabilité et Contrôle de Gestion

Calls for greater accountability from managers and corporations are regularly voiced these days,both in the academic literature and in public discussions more generally. Specifically, it is oftensuggested that extant financial and management accounting practices embody a rather restrictedform of accountability that falls short of our mutual responsibilities as more than economicsubjects. Against this backdrop, this paper raises the question of whether more accountability isalways and unambiguously desirable from an ethical point of view. It does so by inquiring into thelimits that the accountable self faces when giving an account. Building upon the recent work ofJudith Butler, the paper describes the accountable self as an opaque, exposed, and mediated selfthat is inherently limited in its ability to give an account of itself. Because of these limits, wecannot expect demands for accountability always to be fully met. The paper points to the ethicalimportance of recognizing this limited nature of accountability and outlines possible ramificationsof this fact for practice.Keywords: accounting, accountability, responsibility, ethics, Judith Butler