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The transformative potential of counter accounts: a case study of animal rights activism

Matias Laine (School of Management, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland)
Eija Vinnari (School of Management, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 18 September 2017

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the dynamics and transformative potential associated with counter accounts. It explores how counter-accountants’ attempts to rearticulate animal production result in their own identity becoming constructed during the conflict setting and how this identity subsequently relates to the transformative potential of the counter accounts.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper investigates counter accounts released during an animal rights activists’ campaign against industrial meat and dairy production in Finland. The counter accounts, consisting of secretly filmed videos from pig farms, contrasted the official depiction of animal farming and received wide publicity over several years. The main empirical data set consists of 21 interviews with a variety of parties that have a stake in the conflict. This data set is supplemented with a broad set of published documentary material.

Findings

The authors find that the counter accounts managed, to some extent, to rearticulate the meaning of animal production, potentially resulting in the emergence of small-scale societal effects. When trying to undermine the counter-accountants’ radical political demand, the dominant social groups not only dismissed the counter accounts but also attempted to constitute the counter-accountants’ identity as irresponsible, militant and negligent, drawing a firm political boundary between “them” and “us.” Likewise, the counter-accountants seemed reluctant to communicate with representatives of the dominant regime, resulting in an antagonistic as opposed to an agonistic relationship between the two political groups. The paper also discusses ethical questions concerning the production of counter accounts, the importance of having a clearly articulated political vision, and the challenges related to evaluating whether the counter accounts have been successful.

Originality/value

The paper provides insights into the design, use and reception of counter accounts in a real-life social setting, thus providing a direct response to a recent call by Thomson et al. (2015). The paper illustrates the usefulness of the conceptual dynamic conflict arena framework presented by Thomson et al. (2015), and makes use of discourse theory (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985; Laclau, 2005, 2001, 1996) to highlight how in exploring the transformative potential of counter accounts it is necessary to also consider how the identity of the counter-accountants becomes constructed and understood. Furthermore, the paper also seeks to advance the connections between accounting research and significant global problems by investigating an ethically and environmentally disputed industry, and by engaging with the interrelationships between accounts and accountability in the context of socio-ecological change.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank the Guest Editors and the anonymous Reviewers for helpful comments. Prior versions of this paper have been presented at the departmental seminars of Turku School of Economics, Bangor University, Universidad Pablo de Olavide de Sevilla, and ESSEC Business School, the Ecological Accounts workshop in St Andrews as well as the 27th International Congress on Social and Environmental Accounting Research. The feedback received from the audience at these events is also gratefully acknowledged.

Citation

Laine, M. and Vinnari, E. (2017), "The transformative potential of counter accounts: a case study of animal rights activism", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 30 No. 7, pp. 1481-1510. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-12-2015-2324

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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