Account giving as a fundamental social practice and a central sociological concept: a theoretical and methodological reconceptualisation and a practical exploration in a critical case.
This PhD thesis argues that accounts are influenced by culture, are a fundamental form of social practice by which interaction is accomplished, and thus a central sociological concept. The focus of the thesis is that accounts of time and money are affected by religious belief. It examines and (re)conceptualises the concept of an account. Accounts are re-theorised as taking two forms: rational and rhetorical, with their mediation emphasised as the feature that makes them empirically different. Studies of accounting in religious institutions are critically examined and complemented using research from a neglected (in 'financial' accounting studies) branch of sociological research about accounts as ubiquitous social practices. Time and money are appropriate phenomena to research sociologically because they are relevant to sociological and financial conceptions of an account as numerically accountable phenomena that also have socially meaningful features. Ethnomethodology and institutional ethnography are deployed as two mutual methodological frameworks for researching the social accomplishment of accounts in small-scale interaction and ways in which a complex of wider ruling relations, through institutional discourses, are implicit in accounting interactions, especially in institutional settings. The thesis forwards a set of theoretically derived propositions to provide an explanation of accounts that explores their social embeddedness more closely than previous work. Briefly, these are that accounts generally, and particularly as applied to time and money, are a key means to make actions visible; are an attempt to promote a morally worthy self; are culturally relative; give information about the social norms of the social collective; always occur at moral and sometimes institutional interfaces; and are ubiquitous social practices. To provide and interrogate an applied example of these theoretically and methodologically derived propositions about accounts of time and money and how these are affected by culture and beliefs, I use observation, participant observation, analysis of community produced literature, and semi-structured interviews in a critical case study of the Findhorn Foundation. Therein time and money are rhetorically accountable; are indicative of the spiritually influenced moral code of the Findhorn Foundation; and the moral code provides for a vocabulary of motives that members use in order present morally worthy selves. The ideal moral self is culturally relative to the Findhorn Foundation and sets itself in opposition to an ideal type of capitalist production, consumption and generally dominant ways of knowing, being, and organising in industrialised western societies. Rhetorical accounts of time and money pervade rational ones at the organisational level and spiritual principles are blended with business acumen. However, although spiritual principles have epistemological and ontological differences (from dominant ways of doing business in the wider society), they need to be commensurable with the extra-locally produced discourses found within the wider society in order to remain legally viable. Furthermore, tensions around inefficient decision-making processes exist. Accounts are tied to multiple (at times competing) moral codes within Findhorn, and also operate within pragmatically set limits involving disposable resources. This thesis is argued to be a valuable contribution to sociological literature around social accounting in general, and in religious institutions in particular, and contributes to the literature concerning social actors' accounts of their social actions, regardless of the specific setting. That is, these findings are 'about social practices' in general. Succinctly, my thesis puts forward a strong case for seeing accounts as a central sociological concept.