CULTURE

A different way of valuing assets

Friday 10 August 2012, 3:51PM
By University of Canterbury
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A newly published study has revealed how Māori culture can help Western accounting systems address 21st century challenges.

In a paper titled "The concept of taonga in Māori culture: insights for accounting", published in Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, University of Canterbury Senior Lecturer Susan Wild (Accounting and Information Systems), working with Professor Russell Craig from Victoria University, Australia, and Dr Rawiri Taonui, Adjunct Professor of Indigenous Studies at Auckland University of Technology, suggests that Western accounting could draw much from embracing a unique Māori perspective.

The researchers say that to address many 21st century challenges, Western accounting needs to recast the narrow, individualistic and economically bound concept of asset, claiming that much would be gained from recognising that there are things of value beyond those defined by individual property rights and economic reckoning.

In their paper the authors suggest that the concept of taonga, which contrasts sharply with conventional Western definitions of asset, should become part of contemporary Western accounting thinking. They propose that “in a world confronted by complex, multi-layered problems like global warming and financial crises, entertaining a more robust, rich and versatile notion of asset seems warranted”.

The term taonga has no direct English equivalent but is the closest term the Māori culture has to the Western notion of asset. Broadly, taonga is defined as “property” or anything that is “highly prized”. Yet, as the researchers explain, taonga denotes far more than material assets - taonga encompasses a sacred regard for the whole of nature, a belief that resources are gifts from gods and ancestors, and a recognition of obligations to past, present and future generations.

The researchers say, in contrast to the Western-style conception of “assets”, individuals do not “own” taonga - they are its guardians or stewards. Taonga refers to all things highly prized, tangible and intangible, material and spiritual.

Central to Western accounting is the idea that property can be owned by a single individual and is entirely transferrable from one to another, whereas in Māori culture taonga are held "in trust for the community, ancestors and successors, and to ensure the well-being of natural resources…Taonga are not so much exchanged, but circulated, thereby binding the individual to community."

The paper’s authors suggest that the adoption by accountants of a broader approach towards the concept of asset, based on the notion of taonga, would aid in providing decision-useful insights in the current global context of complex environmental and social, as well as economic challenges. The paper forms part of an ongoing cross-cultural research project.

Publication details:
"The concept of taonga in Māori culture: insights for accounting", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 25 (6), 2012. A full version of the paper can be downloaded here:
http://www.emeraldinsight.com/fwd.htm?id=aob&ini=aob&doi=10.1108/09513571211250233