The social contract in accounting
The idea of the social contract is an ancient one—it predates the European Enlightenment (which is generally thought to have started in the late 17th century). Although its origin is unknown, its greatest proponents actually bookended the Enlightenment period: Thomas Hobbes at the dawn of the Enlightenment and Jacques Rousseau at the end.
Hobbes' great political work Leviathan proposed that governments (which at that time mostly referred to monarchs) receive their power from the people. In giving this power, the people surrender many freedoms, accept the monarch or government, and in return receive the protection and civil rule of the monarch or government. His was essentially a utilitarian theory. Hobbes believed that as a social contract, an individual could or would be worse off at times, but it was essential for the greater good of society.
Hobbes was born in England under the imminent threat of the Spanish Armada. He grew up in a country still in turmoil from the Protestant Reformation (remember Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn?) and he witnessed the English civil war and the overthrow of Charles II. His great work Leviathan, from which came much of the Westminster system of government, may not look revolutionary to us in the 21st century, but it became a dangerous idea in republican England.
The key idea of Leviathan and most other theories of the social contract is that if left to himself, ungoverned, Man will revert to his natural state where extreme self-interest overcomes all attempts to work and live with his fellow men. Savagery and lawlessness would exist, and it would become impossible for one man to transact with another. The answer, according to Hobbes and others, is that society must voluntarily surrender many of its freedoms to a ruler (an individual monarch or a political body) and in return the ruler must keep society safe from external aggression, internal strife, and the capricious use of power.
Rousseau took a different approach in his idea of the social contract. He believed that the social contract was an instrument of social justice, where the outcome should be benefits for all, equally. Rousseau believed that all men were free and equal, and the social contract must enforce this. And if you think the idea of equality and freedom sounds familiar, it should. Rousseau's -dangerous idea- informed the writers of the constitution of the United States, and also inflamed the passions that led to the French Revolution.
So what is the relevance of Hobbes, Rousseau and the social contract to accounting?
This is a very good question, and one that I hope you will be able to provide some answer to in your report. In Modules 7 and 8 you reviewed some systems theories concerning voluntary reporting decisions. These included Legitimacy Theory, Stakeholder Theory and Institutional Theory. All represent versions of Political Economy Theory. All depend, to some extent, on the idea of a social contract. Your textbook discusses these theories in Chapters 8 and 9.
What is the relevance of the social contract to this assignment?
The aim of this assignment is to give you practice in being an accounting theorist, to take you beyond the textbook and start you on your way to being a deep thinker about the profession you will be entering. In doing so, you are also building on the work you have done in Assessment Item 1.
The true and fair view (TFV) principle that you researched in Assessment Item 1 may also represent a social contract between the accounting profession and the business community. This would provide an alternative view to regulatory capture theory. In other words, the accounting profession doesn't capture the regulators for any sense of power, but to support the social contract.
The social contract is an idea that informs so much of accounting theory, yet it is given such little attention. If the social contract underscores one or more of the systems theories presented in Modules 7 & 8, then it has implications across a number of areas of accounting theory, not least in the area of environmental and sustainability reporting (Module 8). This is your opportunity to explore these implications for yourself.
Your choice of topic
You may choose to do one of the following topics, or both. In either case, make sure you clearly indicate what you are doing by saying so in your introduction and by the use of clear headings in your report.
The topics are:
1. Building on the literature review from Assessment Item 1, discuss whether or not the TFV represents a social contract between the accounting profession. Support your position with convincing arguments from the academic literature.
2. Explain the relevance and application of the social contract to Legitimacy Theory in accounting.
If you choose to just one topic, the body of your report will consist of a maximum of 5,000 words on that topic. However, if you choose to do both topics, then each topic has a maximum limit of 2,500 words each and available marks will also be allocated evenly between topics.
Please set your report out using the following simple report outline.
Synopsis (also known as an Executive Summary)
Use the synopsis to summarise your topic and the key points of what you found about your topic. This should be no more than two paragraphs. Professional writers usually write this last.
This is not the same as a synopsis. An introduction should be a road map to your entire report: what the topic was, where you searched, what you found, what the key points are.
An introduction can take up to half a page. Write this after the literature review and conclusion sections, but before the synopsis.
Make sure that you clearly explain here which topic or topics you have elected to research.
Report body (5,000 words max)
• If you are doing 1 topic, then this is 5,000 words in this section.
• If you are doing 2 topics, then make sure each is clearly indicated with appropriate headings, and each topic must be up to a maximum of 2,500 words.
This wraps up (summarises) the key points of the report. Use this section to conclusively and clearly state from your research of the topic or topics.
Place your references here. I expect quite a few. Each reference listed here must also have a citation within the text of your literature review. The reverse is also true: every citation of a source within your literature review must point to a reference here in your reference list.
The assessment criteria
As you can probably guess, there is no single -correct- answer for this assignment, although there can be many -incorrect- answers. You will be assessed on:
• the quality of your scholarship (research, processing information, and finally the ability to present what your found out in a useful way) (70%)
• the quality of your English expression (15%)
• the quality (readability) of your presentation (15%).
You may use either the Harvard or APA referencing style for this assignment, but you must be consistent and you must reference all sources of your information. A failure to reference properly will attract penalties of up to 5 marks.
Plagiarism or academic misconduct (such as using someone else to write your assignment) will attract worse penalties.