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Self, ethics, morality and accountability: a case of a public university

Version 2 2023-09-01, 06:08
Version 1 2022-12-18, 23:44
journal contribution
posted on 2023-09-01, 06:08 authored by Xuan MaiXuan Mai, Zahirul HoqueZahirul Hoque

Purpose: This paper explores why and how, and in what context, individuals' accounting of self, ethics and morality and self-knowledge of the limits of accountability can frame their account giving and judging in an organisational formal performance evaluation process. Design/methodology/approach: Building upon the Butlerian notions of accountability as advanced by Messner (2009) and Roberts (2009), the authors conducted a qualitative field study at a Vietnamese public university, involving face-to-face interviews, observation of performance evaluation meetings and examination of archival documents. Findings:The authors found that individuals experience conflicting ethical and moral values when they rely on their self-knowledge of accountability (the ability to self-account) in their account giving and judging in the university's formal academic performance evaluation process. In addition, the authors found that when individuals want to provide the best account to the account demander, their understanding of their ability to self-account and the formal organisational accountability process influence their views on what authentic account giving means. As a result, enhanced ethics-to-others has the potential to be an ethical burden and may not lead to authentic or beyond minimum accounting of “self”. Yet, in the Vietnamese socio-cultural and political context within which the university operates, and in the situation of ethical and moral conflicts in self-accountability, the authors found evidence of individuals' self-accountability behaviours that is based on the co-existence of a sense of responsibility to others and self-knowledge of the limits of accountability.Research limitations/implications. Although this study was limited to one Vietnamese public university, its findings enhance the knowledge about how individual ethical and moral values, self-knowledge of the limits of accountability and the formal organisational accountability process connect with each other in the socio-cultural and political context within which an organisation operates.Practical implications. The study highlights the role of the context of local socio-cultural norms and values and of physical social interaction in developing the sense of connection to others, which influences the way individuals' ethical and moral values are mobilised to shape account-giving and judging behaviours.Social implicationsThe emphasis on the role of the sense of connection to others on personal accountability and the emphasis on physical, face-to-face interaction in developing sense of connection to others leads to an interesting issue regarding the sense of connection in the virtual social interaction setting, which has become increasingly popular globally, especially during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, and its implication for the use of personal ethical and moral values in organisational accountability practices.Originality/value: Adding to the conversation on how a formal organisational accountability process can be effective, this study identified (1) the unpredictable outcomes of using ethics as rules for accountability practices due to potentially conflicting ethical values; (2) the diverse understandings of self-accounting, leading to different ideas of authentic accounting; and (3) the possibility of moral accountability behaviours based on the co-existence of a sense of connection to others and an understanding of the limits of accountability.


Publication Date



Accounting Auditing and Accountability Journal






25p. (pp. 323-347)





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© 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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