Interconnectedness and the web of accountabilities: Humboldtian approaches to social and environmental accounting

Lehner, Othmar M. ORCID logoORCID: and Kyriacou, Orthodoxia ORCID logoORCID: (2023) Interconnectedness and the web of accountabilities: Humboldtian approaches to social and environmental accounting. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal . ISSN 0951-3574 [Article] (Published online first) (doi:10.1108/AAAJ-12-2021-5578)

PDF - Published version (with publisher's formatting)
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution 4.0.

Download (5MB) | Preview
[img] PDF - Final accepted version (with author's formatting)
Restricted to Repository staff and depositor only

Download (1MB)


Purpose – Current accounting practice tends to split environmental complexities into quantifiable, codified elements, producing codified simplifications of the “complex” in pursuit of environmental externalities. This has led to standardization, but has done little to motivate organizations to engage in more environmentally-aware behavior that transcends the coercive dimensions of codification. The work of Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) can bring new insights and perspectives to social and environmental accounting (SEA). In discussing Humboldt’s philosophy of understanding the interconnectedness between people, their contexts (cultures), and their environment, we contribute to the emerging SEA literature on notions of interconnectedness and the web of accountabilities.We also explore how a Humboldtian approach may help break through the current epistemological boundaries of SEA by combining accurate measurement with imagery to make the “complex” manageable whilst embracing interconnectedness and hermeneutics.
Design/methodology/approach – In this conceptual paper, we humbly draw on Humboldt’s legacy and explore the underlying philosophical assumptions of Humboldtian science. We then contrast these with current SEA approaches in the literature, and derive new insights into their intentionality and practical use.
Findings – Re-examining Humboldt’s pioneering work enables us to pinpoint what might be missing from current SEA approaches and debates. Humboldt upheld an “ethics of precision,” which included both measurement accuracy and qualitative relevance, and combined hands-on scientific fieldwork with the aesthetic ideals and interconnectedness of the age of Romanticism. Drawing on Humboldtian science, we propose focusing on the interconnectedness of nature and humanity, embracing the qualitative and hermeneutical, and including aesthetics and emotion in environmental visualizations.
Originality – Our paper elucidates why and how Humboldtian science might inform, guide, and enhance the emancipatory potential of SEA in the 21st century. Specifically, we discuss Humboldt’s approach of linking accurate measurement with imagery to convey a sense of interconnectedness.

Item Type: Article
Sustainable Development Goals:
Keywords (uncontrolled): Social and environmental accounting (SEA), Historical accounting research, Humboldt, Interconnectedness, Accountability
Research Areas: A. > Business School
Item ID: 37604
Notes on copyright: Copyright © 2023, Othmar Manfred Lehner and Orthodoxia Kyriacou. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited.
License: This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at
Depositing User: Orthodoxia Kyriacou
Date Deposited: 06 Mar 2023 12:38
Last Modified: 12 May 2023 12:19

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Activity Overview
6 month trend
6 month trend

Additional statistics are available via IRStats2.