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“The public interest” is a phrase that we, as accounting researchers, associate with accounting almost by reflex. When we talk about accounting and society, the normative imperative creeps in, and we find it quite natural to insist that accounting ought to serve the public interest. This predisposition is reinforced by the traditional claims of the accounting profession to protect the public interest, and by the neoclassical microeconomic theories that underpin so much accounting research, which deem accounting to aid in social welfare maximization by providing transparent, reliable information to investors. Accounting research that problematizes the notion of the public interest is rare, however. Researchers seldom directly address what is meant by “public interest”, or question how accounting is connected to it. Mainstream researchers, by virtue of their microeconomic models, tend to assume a unidirectional relationship between accounting and the public interest, wherein “better” accounting (i.e. more representationally faithful, more reliable, more timely, more comparable, and so forth) makes for greater social welfare. Even critical researchers frequently accept this one-way relationship, albeit they usually contend that the relationship is impaired. To move beyond this consensus, and open up “public interest” research, it is helpful to consider accounting and the public interest as being mutually constitutive (cf. Neu, forthcoming). Accounting does not serve the public interest so much as generate a peculiar and hyperreal version of it. And this peculiar “public interest” in turn demands and generates the accounting that it requires. How this happens is an The Emerald Research Register for this journal is available at The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/researchregister www.emeraldinsight.com/0951-3574.htm This manuscript has benefited from the comments of Alan Richardson at the Schulich School of Business. Editorial 585 Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal Vol. 18 No. 5, 2005 pp. 585-591 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0951-3574 DOI 10.1108/09513570510620457 empirical question. It is to stimulate research into this empirical realm, to open up lines of enquiry into the mechanisms and sustaining myths that connect accounting and the public interest, that this special issue has been assembled. The recent recurrence of accounting crises has fanned the flames of interest in the public interest, leading to a popular concern for the role of the profession and calls for better regulation. This has created an interesting puzzle. While the public outcry regarding Enron and WorldCom can scarcely be overstated, and while many accounting researchers have at least toyed with the idea of producing something apropos, the market for accounting research has not been as conducive to public interest research as one might expect. The number of articles using the phrase “public interest” in leading accounting journals, this one included, has not increased significantly since Enron. The reasons for this have to do, we suggest, primarily with the institutionalized nature of the market for accounting research. On the “supply” side, academic careers are built around particular research approaches and painstakingly acquired expertise/habitus, wedded to mid- and long-range research programs. Pivoting these programs to engage fashionable topics is akin to asking a cruise ship to turn around to pick up a late passenger. On the “demand” side, accounting’s academic journals have interests, aims and agendas that allocate the retail space for research in certain ways. Asking accounting academics to produce research on the public interest that meets both the quality standards and the implicit topical and methodological strictures of leading accounting journals is therefore doubly difficult. Even if they did produce “public interest” research articles, it is not certain that these articles would find a home. New strategies are therefore necessary for creating the publication spaces where public interest accounting topics can be explored and debated. These spaces must be created before researchers can be expected to take the career risks to produce the work. This process is well underway, with the creation of new journals such as Accounting and the Public Interest. The willingness of Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal to produce this special issue continues this process. Each of the articles in this issue takes a very different look at the relationship between accounting and the public interest. The first article in the issue, by Christine Cooper, is a call to arms for accounting academics. Cooper argues that academics have an important role as public intellectuals, which requires them to engage the social world. Similar to prior work in this genre (Sikka et al., 1995; Neu et al., 2001), she suggests that academics can offer theoretical coherence to social movements, but that the pressures of academic work constrain academics from engaging in socially connected work.