A tragedy of understanding; accounting for ontological security

Ian Colville (School of Management, University of Bath, Bath, UK)
Laurie McAulay (School of Management, University of Bath, Bath, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Publication date: 1 December 1996


There is a scene in a play by Euripides in which Medea, the central character, persuades Jason, her husband, to be the unwitting participant in her plot for revenge. This scene illustrates a facet of finance and accounting expertise because it shows how narrative, including finance and accounting, provides ontological security; a belief in the security of reality and the predictability of outcomes. The Chorus in the play suggests that Jason is “so sure of destiny”. What makes the scene particularly interesting is that it carries a second meaning, which is absolutely clear to the audience, and which has tragic consequences, of which Jason is “so ignorant”. This possibility of a second meaning suggests dangers in accepting a superficial understanding of any narrative. In turn, this shows the need for a knowledge of the history and characters from which any single scene, or finance and accounting report or calculation, is constructed. Provides quotations from practitioners which illustrate ways in which they see finance and accountancy as narrative and the ways in which they succeed and fail to imbue any accounting scene with characters and history.



Colville, I. and McAulay, L. (1996), "A tragedy of understanding; accounting for ontological security", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 9 No. 5, pp. 7-22. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513579610151935

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Copyright © 1996, MCB UP Limited

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