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The Limits of Accountability

54 Pages Posted: 4 Jul 2009  

Martin Messner

HEC Paris

Date Written: July 3, 2009


Calls for greater accountability from managers and corporations are regularly voiced these days, both in the academic literature and in public discussions more generally. Specifically, it is often suggested that extant financial and management accounting practices embody a rather restricted form of accountability that falls short of our mutual responsibilities as more than economic subjects. Against this backdrop, this paper raises the question of whether more accountability is always and unambiguously desirable from an ethical point of view. It does so by inquiring into the limits that the accountable self faces when giving an account. Building upon the recent work of Judith Butler, the paper describes the accountable self as an opaque, exposed, and mediated self that is inherently limited in its ability to give an account of itself. Because of these limits, we cannot expect demands for accountability always to be fully met. The paper points to the ethical importance of recognizing this limited nature of accountability and outlines possible ramifications of this fact for practice.

Keywords: responsibility, ethics, accountable self, accounting, Judith Butler

JEL Classification: M10, M40

Suggested Citation

Messner, Martin, The Limits of Accountability (July 3, 2009). Accounting, Organizations and Society, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Martin Messner (Contact Author)

HEC Paris ( email )

1 rue de la Liberation
Jouy-en-Josas Cedex, 78351

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