Accounting's contribution to a conscious cultural evolution: An end to sustainable development

Frank Birkin, Pam Edwards, David Woodward

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Influential institutions are acknowledging the need for more change to reverse practices that seriously damage social and ecological systems. The depth and extent of these changes are indicated by the call for a conscious cultural evolution. This paper considers a possible contribution from accounting to comply with such an evolution. A theoretical basis for accounting's contribution to a conscious cultural evolution is outlined by means of a truth classification scheme developed in this paper as well as the works of Foucault, Giddens, evolutionary biologists and life-world theorists. This theoretical basis is then used to interpret the results of an EU funded research project that was to identify the criteria and specifications for a sustainable development management and accounting tool. The strengths and weaknesses of traditional, social and environmental accounting are evaluated against the needs of sustainable development as identified during the course of this project as well as a proposed balanced accounting. The theoretical basis identified in this paper is further employed to re-evaluate the concept of accounting equity in the context of equitable communities and face-to-face relationships. Finally, the potential resistance to changes of this kind that may exist within contemporary mainstream accounting is considered. The end of sustainable development is considered within the conclusion. © 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-208
Number of pages23
JournalCritical Perspectives on Accounting
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2005


  • Accounting for sustainable development
  • Equity
  • Evolution of accounting
  • Social and environmental accounting
  • Values


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