Social accounting's emancipatory potential: A Gramscian critique

Crawford Spence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

187 Citations (Scopus)


At the heart of the social accounting project lies a radical and emancipatory intent. Yet social accounting practice, in the form of corporate self reporting, has systematically failed to open up organisations to substantive critique. Rather than rendering transparent the contradictions within capitalism, corporate social accounting primarily obfuscates these. Through corporate social accounting business expresses Moral and Intellectual Leadership, further entrenching its hegemony. This paper offers a theoretical explanation for why this is the case, drawing upon the work of Antonio Gramsci. Corporate social accounting serves a regressive role because it is closely tied to the economic base of society. An emancipatory social accounting would operate relatively autonomously from the economic base and actively expose the contradictions of the current hegemony. Such an accounting could be, indeed is, practiced by civil society. This paper goes further than merely critiquing corporate social accounting and draws attention to some of the different types of social accounting that are practiced by civil society organisations. In drawing attention to these civil society accounts the paper suggests that the social accounting project's emancipatory intent can still be realised although this would require a reassessment of the faith that has hitherto been placed in the corporation as an emancipatory change agent.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-227
Number of pages23
JournalCritical Perspectives on Accounting
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


  • Civil Society
  • Emancipation
  • Gramsci
  • Hegemony
  • Political Economy
  • Social Accounting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Information Systems and Management


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