Towards accounting semiology: an interdisciplinary re-conceptualisation of IFRS asset recognition and measurement
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In the spirit of interdisciplinary critical accounting studies and in light of the IASB’s on-going Conceptual Framework project, this thesis problematises and proposes a re-conceptualisation of two fundamental financial accounting practices: recognition and measurement of assets. In order to do so, the thesis steps outside financial accounting’s conventional disciplinary resources of economics and finance. It proposes to mobilise Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiology, which, defined as a theory of social sign systems, provides a meaningful delineation of financial accounting as a purposeful sign technology. With such a lens and with a research approach of going beyond IASB’s proclaimed concepts and narrative to its nuanced prescriptions, the thesis challenges taken-for-granted assumptions with regard to the market-based nature of Fair Value measurement and the characterisation of judgement involved in recognition. With respect to value measurement, the thesis harness semiology to fracture the dichotomy between the market and the entity perspectives, which is generally assumed in extant accounting research and policy-making. It is shown how the IASB’s Fair Value measurement prescriptions demonstrate semiology's two-dimensional 'value constellation', where the asset’s value is not merely relational (and not intrinsic) but, importantly, relational in two distinct dimensions. It is a product, first, of differentiation from other values in the market and, second, of interrelation with other values in the specific entity. With a semiological theorisation of the financial statement, market-based and entity-specific perspectives serve as complementary inputs rather than contradictory outputs. With respect to recognition, the thesis proposes to shift the locus of judgment from questions of recognition thresholds (probability and reliability) to the under-investigated issue of the asset’s separability from the firm’s general cash flow. It is shown how the IASB’s procedures manifest the semiological principle of ‘reciprocal articulation’: accounting entities (e.g., ‘assets’) are not passive representations of pre-existing economic resources, but rather a product of delimiting – carving out – the asset/resource from the broader category (or the entire firm). With such theorisation, the crux of recognition is separability, which is never natural or technical, but rather anchorless and reciprocal. The thesis thereby sheds light on the plasticity of recognition for both tangible and intangible assets. With its theory-informed analysis the thesis offers a set of conceptual instruments – value constellation and reciprocal articulation – as the logic of the balance sheet as a sign technology: its semio-logic. With Saussure’s ground-breaking linguistic semiology, it offers a parallel financial-numeric semiology: an Accounting Semiology.