Accounting for imperialism

28 September 2023 | News

It may conjure images of invasion and the military, but Lincoln University academic, Dr Mohini Vidwans, says the imperialist's toolkit also included accounting.

Dr Vidwans, who researches careers and discrimination around gender and race, said accounting was used when the guns and soldiers become too expensive.

In her paper, Indigenous peoples and accounting: A systematic literature review, she and co-author, Dr Tracy-Anne De Silva, identified the global body of academic literature on indigenous peoples and accounting to develop some insights.

They found that accounting had been used by European powers, mainly Britain, to exercise control over their indigenous peoples and their territory.

Dr Vidwans said indigenous peoples saw their relationship with the land differently than colonisers.

"Australia’s Aboriginals viewed themselves as custodians, not owners of the land. For them, the need for food, shelter, social contact and spiritual enrichment are all provided by the land. However, in contrast, land ownership, physical shelters, and personal possessions are the very basis of Western societies which accounting espouses."

Indigenous values that encompass sharing, relationships, kinship, cooperation, coexistence and egalitarianism, are in marked contrast to the mainstream Western values of accounting and accountability systems, which focus on individualism, achievement and independence.

Accounting, the paper stated, identified the value and identity of the property but not the lives behind the numbers, thereby dehumanising the indigenous peoples and removing bureaucrats from the consequences of their actions.

Indigenous accountants remained "severely under-represented, but indigenous autonomy, voice and participation are vital for transforming the ethnocentric systems that have led to the devaluation of indigenous peoples". 

"For effecting change, we identify a need to focus on forward-looking solutions and how indigenous cultural values can contribute to a more enabling accounting," Dr Vidwans said.

That initiative to create change in accounting was "urgently needed".

"Therefore, it is important to understand the research that has been undertaken in this space and strengthen the knowledge base to bring about change for tomorrow."