Accounting, accountability and money - implications of Georg Simmel's "Philosophy of money" for the social and environmental accounting project

Cary Di Lernia, James Hazelton

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


Recent social (UNWFP; ACF, 2007) and scientific (Flannery, 2005) inquiry has demonstrated humanity’s failure to accurately give account for the world it exists in and thus understand the dire exigencies its inhabitants and future generations face. This is mirrored in the resounding failure of our dominant system of account to match up to its ideal genetic form, accountability, a form which might have alerted us earlier to the need to adjust our styles of life with a view to more equitable and sustainable methods of existence. Instead of helping humanity deal with the basic problems of the distribution of scarce resources on a finite planet, modern financial and management accounting have been enlisted in the service of capital, hastening the decline of the natural environment, fragmenting social relationships, and reifying individuals, usually in the pursuit of corporate interests and the profit imperative which most often defines them. This paper focuses on a crucial factor that has been conspicuously absent from accounting debates since the beginning of critical dialogue in the discipline: A qualitative analysis of the money form in and of itself, and its (limiting) effects upon the practice of accountability. It does this through an exposition of Georg Simmel’s Philosophy of Money, before investigating the interaction between money and accounting, and the effects of their admixture on individual and social existence. While it may be hoped that SEA could play a role here by alerting us to important non-financial aspects of corporate performance, when viewed from the platform provided by Simmel’s work we may conclude that given the fact corporations are created with the primary intention of generating monetary value, that the corporate form itself is more likely to be part of the problem than the solution. This could mean that the focus of SEA accounting must broaden beyond a focus on the corporation if it is to realise it’s emancipatory potential. It is argued that understanding money and its valuation can assist us in dealing with monetary accounting’s failure as a basic human technology to genuinely assist in the pursuit of a harmonious and sustainable existence on this planet, and thus in moving away from a myopic focus on monetary interests towards a more encompassing and hopefully emancipatory form of accountability. There are a large number of occupations in modern cities, such as certain categories of general and trading agents and all those indeterminate forms of livelihood in large cities, which do not have any objective form and decisiveness of activity. For such people, economic life, the web of their teleological series, has no definite content for them except making money. Money, the absolute entity, is for them the fixed point around which their activity circulates with unlimited scope. (Simmel, 2004 p. 433)
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCritical Perspectives on Accounting
Subtitle of host publicationan international conference at Baruch College April 25-26, 2008
EditorsTony Tinker
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherCity University of New York
Number of pages51
Publication statusPublished - 2008
EventCritical Perspectives on Accounting Conference - New York
Duration: 24 Apr 200828 Apr 2008


ConferenceCritical Perspectives on Accounting Conference
CityNew York


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