Ethical positionings in the self-reflective accounts of professional accountants
Keywords:account analysis, accounting profession, discursive strategies, ethical dilemmas, ethical practice, positioning, professional identity
Ethical aspects of professional practice are increasingly the focus of attention and scholarly investigation, nowhere more so than in the field of financial accounting. In this paper we examine how three experienced accountants responded to a query about the ethics of everyday accounting practice. From a corpus of 18 interviews, we chose three "accounts" representing three disparate ethical positions. The interviewees developed their positions tentatively and incrementally, and each employed a distinctive range of rhetorical and discursive strategies. They had time to reflect on the topic in question, i.e. to reflect while actually speaking and to reflect on and react to what they had said so far. And they had time to consider the consequences of each impromptu formulation for their public identity as ethically responsible, trustworthy professionals as well as for their inner self-conceptions as ethical and moral agents. Our findings suggest that ethical self-understandings evolve over time, as individual agents react to the challenges or dilemmas they happen to confront, and that that process may well be accelerated through the activity of account giving - a process that simultaneously illuminates the impersonal corporate forces that organise our society.
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