“Virtual centre” of inter­na­tional ac­counting research

From July 5 to 9, 2021, the University of Innsbruck was the “virtual world centre” of interdisciplinary accounting research. During this week, the research centre Accounting Theory and Research hosted the 13th Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Accounting Conference IPA and the accompanying Emerging Scholars Colloquium.
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We currently experience in an extraordinary manner how numbers – such as incidences, r-values, or hospitalisation rates – influence our actions as well as economic and political decision making. Interdisciplinary accounting research studies how indicators, quantification, and reporting– in short, calculative practices – influence and interact with societal, organisational, and individual agency and practice. Research topics include, for example, costing and financial reporting practices, sustainability reporting, tax evasion, accounting’s contribution to producing and reproducing power relations, or its contribution to the financialisation of society. Researchers draw on manifold methodological sources, from, for example, Husserl’s phenomenology to Foucauldian governmentality, Deleuze and the science-inspired relational ontology of Karen Barad.

From July 5 to 9, 2021, the University of Innsbruck was the “virtual world centre” of interdisciplinary accounting research. During this week, the research centre Accounting Theory & Research hosted the 13th Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Accounting Conference IPA and the accompanying Emerging Scholars Colloquium. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic both had to be held virtually – to the great regret of those who had been visiting the 9th IPA in Innsbruck in 2009.

Overall, 125 paper were presented and more than 300 people from 39 countries around the world participated in the conference. Besides presenting new research, conferences are important for building and keeping alive the scientific community through enabling informal contacts and interactions. This is unquestioningly the greatest challenge in a virtual conference environment. For this reason, we chose a virtual conference platform which easily enabled one-to-one video chats and meetings between conference participants. Additionally, we provided virtual “conference cafés” which were open 24/7 for all.

The conference was openend by Vice-Rector Ulrike Tanzer and Dean Annette Ostendorf. The scientific programme started with the opening keynote by Professor Katherine Gibson (Western Sydney University). Additional keynotes were held by Professor Emily Barman (Loyola University Chicago) and Professor David Cooper (University of Alberta).

Katherine Gibson, who is an economic geographer, gave a keynote on “What is the role of accounting in making other worlds possible?” She discussed the potential of calculative tools for supporting alternative forms of social and economic organization which are known by the label community economics. Her approach transcended most critical accounting research that reveals, in a critical stance, how calculative practices contribute to exploitation and reproduction of inequalities. Gibson draws not only on several decades of  basic and applied research but also on her many practical engagements with community economic projects.

Sociologist Emily Barman spoke about “Of concepts and calculations: Theorizing social impact.” She critically analysed the actual trends of “caring capitalism.” This comprises, on the one hand, impact investment – investment strategies focusing on economic success as well as on social and environmental effects. On the other hand, caring capitalism comprises philanthrocapitalists and the influential foundations. In both cases, argues Barman, we find monetarization at work, i.e., a reduction of the multiple possible social effects to an ascribed economic value. This eliminates the different qualities of social value and a qualitative consideration of trade-offs between different interests and values is no longer possible.

David Cooper has been one of the founders of the Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Accounting Conference series in 1985. In his closing keynote he presented his “Observations on accounting and power.” He looked back on his long research experience in the fields of calculative practices, accounting institutions, and their relation to power. His keynote bridged the seemingly opposing approaches of Katherine Gibson and Emily Barman. On the one hand, David Cooper supported the critique of Barman by providing many cases and examples of calculative practices, institutions, and regulations fostering, reproducing, and legitimating inequalities and injustices. On the other hand, he emphasized that critical accounting research forms the basis for academics taking up their role as critical intellectuals and their active engagement for a better world. Calculative tools and practices may also be utilised to reveal societal issues.

On the two days preceding the conference, July 5 and 6, 2021, the Energing Scholars Colloquium took place. 23 PhD students and emerging scholars from all over the world had the opportunity to present their projects and discuss them with established senior researchers. The emerging scholars valued this opportunity highly as the following statement by Leonid Sokolovskyy, a PhD student from University of Manchester demonstrates:

„My experience at the IPA ESC 2021 has been overwhelmingly positive and invigorating! The colloquium is conducted in a relatively informal and highly supportive atmosphere. This year it was online due to the pandemic. The feedback that I got from the faculty and fellow students was very developmental and encouraging. It helped me to make sense of some of the issues that I have been wrestling with or just started to touch on in my own research. It also opened up new avenues and angles for my investigation that I have not thought of previously. (...)

In addition to developing my own research project, I was also introduced into the inter-disciplinary accounting research community. I met lots of new people, made a number of friends and had plenty of very insightful conversations and discussions. I met my personal ‘accounting heroes’ – people whose personality, work, and insight continuously inspire me to do qualitative research in accounting. Most importantly, I got a better idea in what spirit inter-disciplinary accounting research is being done and what drives people as researchers: the excitement and emotion of research.“

The 13th Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Accounting Conference and Emerging Scholars Colloquium were organized by the research centre Accounting Theory & Research (https://www.uibk.ac.at/atr/). It was supported by the University of Innsbruck, the Faculty of Management and Business, and the journals Accounting, Organizations and Society and Accounting Forum. For further information, please contact Albrecht Becker (albrecht.becker@uibk.ac.at).

(Albrecht Becker)

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