Doctor of Philosophy
School of Accounting, Economics and Finance
Perkiss, Stephanie, Intelligible accounting for the future: a critical study of worth and (dis)placement, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, School of Accounting, Economics and Finance, University of Wollongong, 2014. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/4287
This thesis is inspired by the promise and the ambiguity that surrounds terms like ‘sustainability’ as indicators for the well-being of future generations in a globalised world. The concept, as well as the realities of place – of how and where humans live, is the focus of the study. Place is complex, and the processes that give rise to the often horrible realities of displacement are even more complex. This thesis examines the multifaceted concept of displacement in three historical cases and one imagined, but unfolding case – the portending displacement of Pacific Islanders in the 21st century. The three historical cases are the Papua New Guinea Ok Tedi mine disaster, the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the city of New Orleans.
Each of these cases is examined through the construction of displacement narratives from within the broad theoretical claims of Zygmunt Bauman’s diverse work and the specific theoretical constructs advanced through Boltanski and Thévenot’s (2006) sociology of worth (SOW hereafter). SOW helps us overcome the narrowness of the value space of modern economics, with its radically subjective rendering of ‘worth’ and ‘value’ as residing simply ‘in the eyes of the market beholder’. Although remaining for the most part within modern social science, Boltanski and Thévenot (2006) at least offer a pluralistic model of worth, identifying orders of worth as market, industrial, civic, fame, inspirational, domestic and green. These orders of worth provide the primary theoretical and methodological structure for the analyses carried out in this study. Place and displacement are thus located in this more complex value sphere.
The thesis relies on the work of Zygmunt Bauman and his concept of liquid modernity. The thesis construes the four cases identified above as phenomena deeply dependent on the time/space markers of liquid modernity in a globalised world. Because the thesis is concerned with the question of economic and moral accountability across these cases, it draws upon William Schweiker’s (1993) work on the intelligibility of economic accounts. The ‘giving of accounts’ is a complex social, hermeneutical, and moral task, and Schweiker’s examination of the act of giving an account shows promise in helping us imagine alternative accountabilities, alternatives which transcend the staleness and apparent impotence of conventional, modern ideas about accountability. That transcendence is imperative in light of the rather apocalyptic horizons of possibility for Pacific Islander displacement.
While displacement studies are not new, traditional accounting research has not engaged holistically with the concept of displacement, though there are a few exceptions (see Lehman et al. 2013 and Baker 2014). This thesis provides one way of ‘reading’ and ‘portraying’ the complexities of displacement in a way that might prove attractive to the more critical, interpretive, and concerned of accounting scholars. It may also ‘tell a story’ that needs to be told, humble as that effort might be. That story may grow into something that can perhaps stand in the way of the displacement that, for now, seems inevitable for so many innocent people.