Accountability as mourning: Accounting for death in the time of COVID-19

Yu, Ai. 2021. Accountability as mourning: Accounting for death in the time of COVID-19. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 90, 101198. ISSN 0361-3682 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

In view of the increasing coronavirus death toll around the globe, centralized governments have been put under the spotlight to account for the deaths in the sovereign states they represent. But could it be a problem if we simply hold governments accountable for deaths by demanding accurate and transparent accounting of the total? Is there a better way to account for deaths in a pandemic without ignoring the pathos of loss and undermining our capacity to act spontaneously? I engage with these questions by looking at how the ethics/politics of death, as two sides of the same coin, affect our understanding of accountability in the time of COVID-19. I distinguish between two types of accountability that correspond to the two meanings of “account for”: “to explain the reason or the cause of something” and “to form part of a total” (Cambridge Dictionary). The second type of accountability, informed by a Deleuzian ethics of death, is explored through an interpretative case study of accounting for the deaths in Wuhan, where the global pandemic began. It shows that accountability is essentially a freedom-enabled endeavour to account for deaths through our repetition in mourning, which forms part of honouring the dead, the dying and the living. This new configuration implies that a more radical form of accounting is needed in order to appreciate the value of life and be mindful of the socio-psychological costs associated with deaths.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


accountability, ethics, the political dimension of death, repetition, COVID-19, online ethnography

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Institute of Management Studies


21 October 2020Accepted
10 November 2020Published Online
April 2021Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

22 Oct 2020 09:20

Last Modified:

10 Nov 2022 02:26

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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