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Representations in accounting: The metaphor effect

The paper acknowledges the dominance of the numerate scientific “what is” approach to financial reporting and comments on the growing role of complementary narratives and photographs in annual reports. Narratives by their very metaphoric nature show up accounting to be more of an art than a science. The hallmark of any art is its “otherness”, that is, art does not claim to mirror and replicate reality but represents it, while remaining something “other” than factual. We demonstrate by reference to some recent company failures that the “what is” numerate methods of financial reporting are also representations: a series of notational metaphors masked by such devices as independent audit reports. Thus, while we applaud the inclusion of complementary narratives to financial reporting, we draw attention to the corresponding lack and limitations in the audit process over these portions of the report. As annual reports grow in narrative and photographic content, we consider metaphoric meaning of these lavishly illustrated additions to numerate reporting. We refer to specific company reports to explain the metaphoric effect. The paper begins by reviewing the “what is” role of the scientific method in accounting and proceeds to look critically at the use of numbers in accounting as notational metaphors. We then focus on the role of narrative comment and compare the representational nature of both approaches. Finally, by way of six case study examples, we discuss the metaphoric use of photographs in company reports.
Working Paper
Type of thesis
Department of Accounting Working Paper Series
Hooper, K. & Low, M. (2000). Representations in accounting: The metaphor effect . (Department of Accounting Working Paper Series, Number 65). Hamilton, New Zealand: University of Waikato.