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Accounts of change: 30 years

of historical accounting research


Christopher J. Napier
*
School of Management, University of Southampton, Higheld, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK
Abstract
Over the past three decades, a desire to understand the processes of change within accounting, and the contribution
made by accounting to broader societal and organizational change, has stimulated a substantial body of historical
research in accounting. Labelled as the new accounting history, this diverse collection of methodological approaches
addressing a wide range of problems has made possible the posing of new questions about accountings past. The under-
standing of what counts as accounting has broadened, a greater awareness of how accounting is intertwined in the
social has emerged, voices from below have been allowed to speak, while accounting has been seen to be implicated
in wider arenas, with networks of practices, principles and people constituting varieties of accounting constellations.
The paper reviews the central contribution of Accounting, Organizations and Society to the emergence of the new
accounting history, and suggests some directions in which this may develop in the future.
2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Introduction
Accounting has changed, is changing, and is
likely to change in the future. This statement might
almost be regarded as a truism. Claims about
change permeate both popular and academic man-
agement and accounting literature. Professional
accountants and their organizations present them-
selves as leaders of change. Accounting methods,
techniques, ideas and practices, those accounting
and those accounted for, the roles of accounting
within and between individuals and organizations,
the place and signicance of accounting in soci-
etyall of these dier in 2005 from 1975 or earlier.
Yet how well do we understand how accounting
changes? Can we show and explain, as Hopwood
(1990, p. 16) puts it, how accounting became
what it was not?
The journal Accounting, Organizations and
Society was founded by Hopwood at a time
when many accounting scholars and practitioners
were beginning to recognize that accounting was
0361-3682/$ - see front matter 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.aos.2005.12.004
*
Tel.: +44 23 8059 5318; fax: +44 23 8059 3844.
E-mail address: C.J.Napier@soton.ac.uk
www.elsevier.com/locate/aos
Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507
going through a period of transition. As Hopwood
was to state in the inaugural issue of the journal:
Unfortunately, however, although recog-
nized as important, all too often accounting
has been seen as a rather static and purely
technical phenomenon. Nothing could be
further from the truth. The purposes, pro-
cesses and techniques of accounting, its
human, organizational and social roles, and
the way in which the resulting information
is used have never been static. The economic
distinctions drawn by accountants and the
methods which they use are themselves cre-
ations of the human intellect and reect
social as well as economic evaluations. They
have evolved, and continue to evolve, in rela-
tion to changes in the economic, social, tech-
nological and political environments of
organizations (Hopwood, 1976, p. 1).
Yet how could change in accounting be under-
stood? One approach that was perhaps already
implicit in Hopwoods rst editorial was to become
more explicit a few issues later. This approach was
accounting history. Hopwoods call for historical
studies was couched in terms that would later be
labelled as traditional, but nonetheless it repre-
sented an awareness that historical studies could
be an important source of understanding of the
roles of accounting in organizations and society:
Accounting as currently practised, and its
historical development, highlight the evolu-
tionary and contingent nature of the subject
in a way that is invariably absent from the
manuals of received knowledge. Rather than
being static and purely technocratic,
accounting has had, and hopefully still has,
the potential of being a responsive and adap-
tive calculative technology that can relate to
and facilitate broader processes of enterprise
and social development.
Such an evolutionary perspective raises many
issues that are particularly salient at the pres-
ent time. It encourages us to consider the
institutional processes that can both facilitate
and constrain the development of account-
ing. It might even point to the desirability
of considering the impact that the profession-
alization of the accounting craft, and later
governmental or regulatory standardization,
had on the adaptability of the technology.
The relationship of accounting to organiza-
tional power structures, and the attendant
pressures to maintain the organizational sta-
tus quo in terms of the preservation of exist-
ing organizational relationships, languages
of discourse and ways of dening the scope
of the problematic, also need further inquiry
in this respect (Hopwood, 1977, p. 277).
In this paper, I review the ways in which a liter-
ature of accounting history developed in AOS. In
Accounting history and AOS section, I briey ana-
lyze the extent to which historical papers have
appeared in the journal in dierent periods, and
comment on some common themes. In Account-
ing, change and history section, I look more clo-
sely at the value of historical research in
accounting, and discuss how some technical and
scholarly approaches to understanding account-
ing, by adopting a present-timeless (Hacking,
1995, p. 299) view of accounting, run the risk of
removing accounting from its temporal context.
The new accounting history section chronicles
the emergence of the new accounting history,
and Themes in the new accounting history section
examines more closely three of the principal
themes of historical research published in AOS:
accounting, power and knowledge; accountings
professionalization project; and new understand-
ings of accountings roles in representing the eco-
nomic. Finally, Appraisals and prospects section
assesses the contribution of historical accounting
research as published in AOS, and sets out some
possible future directions.
Accounting history and AOS
As Table 1 shows, historical research was slow
to emerge in AOS. In the rst 10 years of the jour-
nal, only 13 historical papers were published.
However, among these papers were early examples
of two theoretical perspectives that would become
dominant in the journal in later years: the political
446 C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507
economy of accounting view associated with Tin-
ker (1980) and Tinker, Merino, and Neimark
(1982), and the Foucault-inuenced analysis of
accounting in terms of power and knowledge
introduced by Burchell, Clubb, and Hopwood
(1985) in their analysis of the value added epi-
sode in British nancial reporting. The early
years of the journal saw an eclectic range of histor-
ical papers, including two contributions rmly
within the neo-classical economics framework
based around transaction costs (Chandler &
Daems, 1979; Johnson, 1983) that was later to be
a target of sustained critique.
Historical research came into its own during
the next ve-year period. This saw the develop-
ment of the Foucault-inuenced perspective by
Hoskin and Macve (1986, 1988), Miller and
OLeary (1987, 1990), Hopwood (1987), and Loft
(1986), early work on the accountings profession-
alization project by Willmott (1986), and an early
contribution using labour process theory by Arm-
strong (1987). These perspectives and others were
to blossom in subsequent periods, helped by
important special issues of the journal devoted
entirely (Vol. 16, No. 5/6, 1991) or substantially
(Vol. 18, No. 7/8, 1993) to historical papers, now
operating within an identied genre of the New
Accounting History. More recently, historical
accounting research has come to represent about
20% of the journals content. Diverse themes and
theories have been adopted, but most papers have
been intended by their authors to advance our
understanding of the diverse and changing roles
of accounting in society, and the changing nature
of the accountant as a professional or simply as
a worker.
The 143 papers classied by the present author
as historical
1
cover a wide range of theoretical
Table 1
Historical papers in AOS, 19762005
Years Volumes Total papers Historical papers Historical percentages
Number Pages Number Pages Papers (%) Pages (%)
19761980 15 141 1662 4 46 2.8 2.8
19811985 610 144 1995 9 144 6.3 7.2
19861990 1115 182 2917 22 492 12.1 16.9
19911995 1620 187 3713 46 1203 24.6 32.4
19962000 2125 190 3854 34 651 17.9 22.1
20012005 2630 161 3861 28 808 17.4 20.9
Totals 1005 18002 143 3544 14.2 19.7
1
What constitutes a historical paper is not, at the margin,
clear-cut. I scrutinized every paper appearing in AOS (the
analysis in Table 1 excludes general editorials, obituaries,
notices, errata and similar items but includes all substantive
papers, including reviews and comments, and substantive
introductions to special issues or sections). Many papers were
specically identied by their authors as historical in nature.
Papers that dealt with periods substantially earlier than the time
of writing (usually 30 years or more) were generally classied as
historical, but where the paper simply used old data but did not
present a specically historical analysis, it was not included. An
example of such a paper is Bro cheler, Maijoor, and van
Witteloostuijn (2004), which analyzes the Dutch audit market
from the 1920s, but does not go beyond including some dummy
variables representing dierent time periods in the analysis of
the data. On the other hand, papers addressing relatively recent
events were classied as historical if they adopted a substan-
tially narrative framework and/or have been regarded in the
subsequent literature as historical. A good example of this is the
seminal Burchell et al. (1985) paper, identied by its authors as
a history of value added in the United Kingdom even though
it dealt with events that had occurred over a period of only a
few years before the writing of the paper. Another example
would be the study of events in the auditing profession in
Greece in the 1990s undertaken by Caramanis (2002), another
paper self-described by the author as historical. The most
dicult decision involved the paper by Miller and OLeary
(1994) on Caterpillars Plant with a Future, and related
critiques by Arnold (1997) and Froud, Williams, Haslam,
Johal, and Williams (1997). Even though Arnold specically
titled her comment The limits of postmodernism in accounting
history, the critique, like the original Miller and OLeary
(1994) paper, did not on close reading appear to take a form
that could be classied as accounting history. Any classi-
cation of this nature must reect a degree of subjectivity, and I
am sure that some of the papers that I have classied as
historical in the appendix would not have been regarded as
such by their authors.
C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507 447
perspectives. Most papers explicitly avow a theo-
retical foundation, though in much of the profes-
sionalization literature, where a well-developed
critical sociology of the professions has emerged
particularly in the context of studies of the
accounting profession, this is often developed indi-
rectly by reference to prior studies rather than
being discussed at length. Notwithstanding this,
a few papers do not develop or avow a theory
directly, and in the appendix have on occasion
imputed a theory to the author(s) based on close
reading of the papers concerned.
Although the papers reect a degree of geo-
graphical spread, the principal countries involved
are the USA, UK and the predominantly Eng-
lish-speaking countries of the former British
Empire (dominated by Australia and Canada).
Most papers address periods in the 19th and
20th centuries. Out of the 30 years of papers in
AOS reviewed in the present paper, 10 years
(19901999) were analyzed by Carmona (2004) as
part of a broader study. Carmona (2004, p. 12)
concluded: Non-Anglo-Saxon scholars, non-
Anglo-Saxon settings, and periods of study other
than 18501945 are largely neglected in the inter-
national arena. Although this is certainly true
of AOS not only in the period that Carmona
reviewed but also in earlier times, the last ve years
of historical accounting research in AOS have
exhibited a greater degree of spatial dispersion
than previous periods, with papers addressing
Bangladesh (Uddin & Hopper, 2001), Belgium
(De Beelde, 2002), France (Ramirez, 2001), Greece
(Caramanis, 2002), Italy (Quattrone, 2004), Nige-
ria (Uche, 2002), South Africa (Chua & Poullaos,
2002), Spain (Carmona, Ezzamel, & Gutierrez,
2002), Sweden (Larsson, 2005) and Trinidad and
Tobago (Annisette, 2000, 2003), as well as the
more traditional Anglo-Saxon countries. Most
studies, however, remain based on single countries,
and there has been little use of a comparative inter-
national approach as advocated by Carnegie and
Napier (2002).
As the appendix shows, only comparatively few
papers use primary personal or organizational
archives as their main sources of evidence. Some
papers, particularly those examining accountings
professionalization project, make use of ocial
documents, such as laws and legal cases, and
reports by governmental and other authoritative
bodies, as well as the published nancial state-
ments of companies and other organizations.
Given the interest in discourses of accounting
expressed in the historical literature, it is not sur-
prising that important sources of evidence are con-
temporary writings (text-books, professional
journals, newspapers and magazines) about
accounting. As discussed below, in Appraisals
and prospects section, the new accounting his-
tory has been criticized for its apparent disdain
for archival evidence. Yet, of the 143 papers ana-
lyzed in the appendix, only about one-third (45)
are entirely literature-based, in that they use
no primary archival or oral evidence, nor make
substantial use of documentation contemporary
with the periods under review.
Over the past 30 years, as Table 1 shows, his-
torical papers have occupied nearly 20% of the
pages of AOS. Several of these papers have had
a highly signicant inuence on the scholarly
accounting literature. Based on an extensive cita-
tion analysis, Brown (1996) prepared a list of the
top 100 research papers in accounting. He clas-
sied three of the papers listed in the appendix as
classics (Hopwood, 1987; Loft, 1986; Miller &
OLeary, 1987) and four as near classics (Arm-
strong, 1987; Burchell et al., 1985; Hoskin &
Macve, 1986; Tinker et al., 1982), while another
was included in the rest of the top 100 (Leh-
man & Tinker, 1987). Of the 20 papers in the
journal included in Browns top 100, eight
are historical, and there were no historical papers
from other journals in Browns list. Within the
literature of accounting history, the contribution
of the journal has also been recognized as highly
inuential. In his four-volume collection of 68
key works, Edwards (2000) selects no fewer
than 12 papers from AOS, while Fleischman
(2005), in a three-volume collection intended to
overlap as little as possible with the Edwards vol-
umes, selects ve AOS papers in his set of 46.
Why should there be such an interest in historical
research in this particular journal? In the next
section, I consider how important historical per-
spectives become when accounting is perceived
as being pervaded by change. This will then be
448 C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507
followed by an examination of some of the most
important areas in which historical accounting
research, not only in AOS but in other places,
has provided deep insights into our understand-
ing of accounting as it has functioned in the past
and continues to function in organizations and
society.
Accounting, change and history
Is change important to accounting?
To the American historian Lawrence Stone, the
problem of history is fundamentally explana-
tion of change over time (Stone, 1991, p. 217).
Desires to document accounting changes and
explain such changes by identifying their causes
have been important motivations for historical
accounting research over many decades. Indeed,
even introducing a notion of change in the rst
place suggests issues of a historical nature.
Change implies dierence: what we observe
and experience today is not the same as what we
might have observed and experienced in the past.
Given this view of change as an object of study,
researchers face the evidential issue of describing
accounting in the past, or at least documenting
an absence of accounting in particular contexts.
They must deal with the epistemological issue of
how far our descriptions of the past actually count
as knowledge (Napier, 2002). Even at the level of
personal memory, how far are our recollections
coloured by nostalgia for some lost time, how far
are they reconstructed in the light of subsequent
experience, how far does a pervasive discourse of
change encourage us to structure our recollections
according to an image of progress or decay
(Napier, 2001)? Does change have some underly-
ing mechanism (are there laws of change, for
example), do changes, despite their apparent spec-
icity, demonstrate common structures and char-
acteristics, or is each change fundamentally
unique? Can we meaningfully explain a given
change by reference to causative factors, or is
explanation in history limited to elucidation of
events through rich description? Or is it more help-
ful to regard change as a phenomenon of the pres-
ent moment, or disregard it altogether as an
analytical category?
Certainly much accounting research, education
and practice treats accounting as a phenomenon
of the present, and considers accounting change,
if at all, as very much a second-order eect.
Text-book authors frequently discuss dierent
aspects of the broad accounting discipline (such
as nancial reporting, costing, nancial manage-
ment, auditing) in terms of the recognized rules
and practices of the day, with little or no sugges-
tion that these might have been dierent at some
earlier time (and therefore by implication might
be dierent again in the future). As an example,
consider a leading US introductory textbook
Introduction to Financial Accounting (Horngren,
Sundem, & Elliott, 1999). Although it would
not be accurate to present this book as com-
pletely ahistorical, references to past events, and
therefore by implication to dierence and change,
are isolated and essentially anecdotal. Equivalent
British textbooks also tend to set out accounting
practice in a timeless manner. Even though
change may be acknowledged, it often appears
in terms of future developments rather than past
events.
2
It is perhaps unfair to criticize experienced text-
book authors too much for providing what they
believe students and their instructors want. How-
ever, by presenting accounting in a technical and
ahistorical manner, they promote a specic image
of accounting as a collection of well tried and
tested (Weetman, 1999, p. 748) techniques. Writ-
ers may rationalize these techniques by reference
to some theory or another, but in practice they
2
For example, in her introductory textbook, Weetman (1999)
spends some 400 pages presenting nancial accounting in a
static manner before admitting Accounting is a subject which
develops faster than most textbooks can be written (p. 403),
then a further 300 pages outlining management accounting
before conceding that the methods described have a history
dating back to the early years of the 19th century (p. 748).
Earlier editions of the leading British management accounting
textbook by Drury (2000) included a chapter past, present and
future developments in management accounting, but this was
deleted in the fth edition.
C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507 449
appear in the text-books often simply because they
are used.
3
Sometimes, text-book authors may pro-
vide a brief survey of how a particular accounting
issue, regulation or technique has developed, but
implicit in this is often a claim that the present
practice, described in detail in the text, is the cul-
mination of a process of progress and improve-
ment. There is no need to say much about
previous accountings, as they are, on this argu-
ment, inferior and thus deserve to be superseded.
Again, this may be a reasonable pedagogic strat-
egy for text-book authors to adopt, as students
may become confused when presented with dier-
ent methods rather than the single right answer.
Inevitably, though, this presents accounting as a
technology where right answers are the norm.
This pedagogic approach to accounting helps to
sustain and recreate accountants who paradoxi-
cally are exhorted to embrace change while learn-
ing a craft that appears to be present-timeless
(Hacking, 1995, p. 299). In this, accountants may
not be too dierent from those in other vocational
disciplines, such as medicine, engineering and law.
However, medicine has a clear mission of making
people better and engineering of making things bet-
ter, and these missions are reected in applied
research as well as practice. Even legal research
has a strong element of making better laws. Much
recent accounting research, however, has lost touch
with notions of technical improvement in account-
ing practice. There has been a focus in some
quarters on analytical, experimental or archival-
empirical approaches (Anonymous, 1988)
4
and a
view of the role of scientic research in account-
ing as limited to explaining and predicting account-
ing practice. These factors have, at the same time,
directed the ingenuity of researchers away from
improving practice towards sophistication of
research method, and stressed understanding of
accounting as a present-timeless phenomenon.
Specic accounting changes are viewed as essen-
tially exogenous events triggering market reactions,
or at best are explained ahistorically in terms of
exogenously given preferences of economic actors
at a point in time.
Historical myth-making
However, in certain circumstances, both
accounting scholars and practitioners have been
willing to mobilize historical arguments. Account-
ing standard-setters frequently provide a narration
of the evolution of accounting for particular
issues, although such a narration is more often
an exposition of historical materials than a fully
articulated history (Young & Mouck, 1996,
p. 133), and tends to present the particular
accounting pronouncement as the inevitable culmi-
nation of this process of evolution. Early writers
of treatises on double-entry bookkeeping, nascent
professional accountancy bodies and pioneering
accounting academics appealed to accountings
ancient roots as a way of raising the status of their
activities (Carnegie & Napier, 1996, p. 10), at a
time when demonstrating a distinguished ancestry
was believed to confer status. With hindsight, this
early historiography might be presented as myth-
building, and three myths in particular are worth
identifying. First is the myth of double-entry book-
keeping as the technical end of accounting, sec-
ond is the myth of the accounting profession as
applying learning to practice in the service of cli-
ents and public, and third is the myth of accounting
as a crucial factor in the emergence and develop-
ment of capitalism. It is important to stress that,
by using the word myth, I am not wishing to pre-
judge the truth or falsity of the factual claims
underlying these stories, but rather to suggest that
they were ways in which particular groups and indi-
viduals made sense of their current position by ref-
erence to stories about the past.
3
Actually, there is remarkably little research that investigates
the extent to which the stylized methods and techniques of the
accounting text-book are indeed those of the businesses and
other entities that are portrayed and modelled in the text-books
pages. The question of whether accounting text-books simply
reect an external world or actually constitute a pedagogic
domain, in which the balance sheet always balances, every
variance has an explanation, and all decisions have a single
outcome, would be worth studying.
4
It is possible that the term archival-empirical, which rst
appeared in Journal of Accounting Research in 1988, is
attributable to the then editor, Katherine Schipper. The
archive is in practice constituted by computer data bases,
the instability of which for replicating research has been
explored by Bamber, Christensen, and Gaver (2000, pp. 126
127).
450 C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507
At least the rst two of these myths were
endorsed most notably (within the anglophone lit-
erature of accounting history) by Littleton. As he
claimed, in a much-quoted passage:
Accounting is relative and progressive. The
phenomena which form its subject matter
are constantly changing. Older methods
become less eective under altered condi-
tions; earlier ideas become irrelevant in the
face of new problems. Thus surrounding
conditions generate fresh ideas and stimulate
the ingenious to advise new methods. And as
such ideas and methods prove successful they
in turn begin to modify the surrounding con-
ditions. The result we call progress (Little-
ton, 1933, p. 361).
Although this concedes that accounting may
have some impact on the context within which it
operates, accounting change is regarded essentially
as a function of environmental change. Explana-
tions of accounting change are couched in terms
of tracing the inuence of exogenous factors;
accounting is not seen as in any sense autonomous.
A broad periodization of accounting change fol-
lows from this, with the economic expansion of
the Italian renaissance providing the conditions
for emergence of double-entry, the industrial revo-
lution stimulating the emergence of more detailed
cost recording, and the growth of the corporation
creating a demand for nancial statements, exter-
nal audit and professional accountants (Carnegie
& Napier, 1996, p. 12).
Although this periodization provides a set of
environmental changes against which accounting
changes may be projected, it tends to over-sim-
plify: what, for example do we mean by the
industrial revolution (Bryer, 2005)? Moreover,
as accounting researchers increasingly located
themselves (in countries such as the UK and
USA) as social scientists, mere coincidence of
an environmental change and an accounting
change did not convince as an adequate explana-
tion of the accounting change: it was not enough
to claim that A caused B, scholars wanted to
know why A caused B. Perhaps historians of
accounting behaved as other socially-oriented his-
torians, who, as Megill (1989, pp. 630631) has
suggested, tended to be inuenced by contempo-
rary views of the methods of science. They
regarded explanation as adequate only if individ-
ual events could be shown to be the consequence
of general laws, and viewed observed phenom-
ena as merely surface traces of some deep real-
ity. If so, the general laws that were used to
explain accounting were economic ones. Entre-
preneurs and accountants were characterized as
rational economic men, choosing accounting
techniques that operated in a cost-eective
manner in their eternal quest for prot, wealth,
or utility. As information gathering, manipulation
and use comes to be seen as a costly process, it
becomes subject to the same economic calculus
as the rational economic man is assumed to
apply to all his other choices. The costs of a par-
ticular information system, and the benets that
the system will generate, will depend on a diver-
sity of factors, such as the eciency of markets
and technologies of communication and calcula-
tion, leavened by individual ingenuity. Changes
in these factors (for example, the emergence of
new productive technologies that make transac-
tions through markets relatively more costly than
internal organization) revise the costbenet
equation. Individuals, constantly in search of
prot maximization, will actively seek out inno-
vative information systems, including accounting.
If they do not, then the force of competition will
make them extinct. We may presume, merely
from the fact that a method survives and domi-
nates, that it is economically superior.
This is a powerful story, to those who accept the
power of economic explanations. It has become
particularly signicant with the emergence of
transaction cost economics (Coase, 1937; Dem-
setz, 1968; Williamson, 1979) and the conceptuali-
zation of the rm as a nexus of contracts (Jensen
& Meckling, 1976; Williamson, 1975, 1985).
5
These
concepts formed important foundations for posi-
tive accounting theory (Watts & Zimmerman,
1986), and indeed historical evidence has been
mobilized by Watts and Zimmerman (1983) to
5
It is perhaps ironic that the very rst historical paper to be
published in AOS (Chandler & Daems, 1979) was rmly within
this economic tradition.
C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507 451
suggest the generality of their theory. However, it is
this very generality that helps to undermine the
transaction cost explanation of accounting
change.
6
If all accounting change is explicable in
terms of shifting balances of costs and benets,
then we have what is at rst sight a powerful theory
that promises to be empirically testable. If we could
examine and retraverse the economic calculations
made by those choosing and changing their
accounting methods, we could satisfy ourselves
that they did indeed select their methods in order
to maximize prots, wealth, utility or whatever
we consider to be the appropriate maximand.
But, as Hoskin and Macve (2000, pp. 106107)
point out, we rarely have explicit evidence of such
economic calculations. Indeed, the economic
explanation of accounting change often turns out
to be circular. Why does an entrepreneur adopt
an accounting method? Because its economically
optimal. How do we know that its economically
optimal? Because the entrepreneur has adopted it.
7
This economic story of accounting change is
probably as much of a myth as any of the previous
generation of explanations of accounting and its
signicance. However, to the extent that historical
accounting research abuts other areas where eco-
nomic arguments are persuasive, and to the extent
to which historical accounting researchers wish to
persuade sceptical, mainstream business and eco-
nomic historians that an understanding of
accounting is vital, if not central, to their own
agendas (Hoskin & Macve, 2000, p. 104), the eco-
nomic story needs to be borne in mind as one of
the acceptable modes of explanation in those
parallel disciplines.
If there is an underlying general explanation of
accounting choice and accounting change, then
perhaps the accounting change that we observe is
only supercial. It may be the case, as Miller and
Napier (1993, p. 632) express the argument, that
while the subject matter and methods of account-
ing may mutate in response to external changes,
there is nonetheless an essential core that can be
continue to be identied as accounting. Popular
candidates for this core might be stewardship
or accountability on the one hand and infor-
mation for decision-making on the other. The
economic story of accounting change, by making
the decision-maker a key character in the choice
of accounting method, tted well with a view that
the proper and essential function of accounting
was to provide information useful for decision-
making. By the 1950s and 1960s, the focus on deci-
sion-usefulness as a key criterion for accounting to
investors (developed by Staubus (1961) and others
and later to be endorsed in various Conceptual
Framework projects) was to provide a criterion
for critique of accounting practices of both the
present and the past.
8
The other potential core
concept, accountability, could be subsumed under
decision-making by couching issues of account-
ability in terms of the decision to reward or penal-
ize the steward, whether manager, agent,
employee, or company director. Whatever core
concept was adopted as the essence of account-
ing, historical researchers eectively endorsed the
view that past accountings diered from present
accountings only on the surface: the deep pur-
pose and structure of accounting was seen as
universal.
6
The transaction cost approach to accounting history has
also been criticized by Tinker and Neimark (1988).
7
David Oldroyd has pointed out to me that it is too
demanding to expect entrepreneurs to select the best of all
possible accounting methodsin practice, they may simply
satisce and select what they believe to be the best from the
limited set of methods of which they have knowledge. This may
be a very limited set indeed, and there will be cases where
entrepreneurs simply perceive no alternative to the method they
actually use.
8
The group of scholars at the London School of Economics
before and after the Second World War, including Ronald
Edwards, William Baxter, David Solomons and Harold Edey,
were not only strong critics of historical cost accounting and
traditional full costing as providing information useful for
decision-making, but were important contributors to historical
literatures of accounting (for example, Baxter, 1956; Edey &
Panitpakdi, 1956; Edwards, 1937; Solomons, 1952), while Basil
Yamey, a professional economist rather than an accountant,
worked extensively to debunk the Sombart thesis that
accounting was central to the development of capitalism. As
Yamey (1964), p. 638 concluded, Systematic accounting of
past business results has a decidedly limited part to play in
business decision-making.
452 C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507
Traditional motivations for historical accounting
research
To many accounting scholars, this made histor-
ical accounting research largely redundant. If the
wish was to elucidate the deep structure of
accounting, it appeared less dicult, and more rel-
evant, to strip away the surface of todays account-
ing phenomena, which at least were readily
accessible, rather than to acquire the technical
skills necessary to gain most from using historical
archives. If we already know the answer we
expect to ndthat accounting methods and prac-
tices are the outcome of a rational economic
choicethen we might as well leave the account-
ing archives to social, economic and business
historians to use as data for their particular inves-
tigations. However, historical accounting research
still took place, and various motivations may be
discerned:
1. Some researchers simply found the past inter-
esting for its own sake. Such an attitude,
when it restricts itself to an interest in curious
and arcane facts, has been labelled as anti-
quarian (Napier, 1989, p. 243).
9
Antiquarian-
ism, in terms of the systematic collection of
material from the past, was a forerunner of
scientic history emerging around the
beginning of the 19th century, and it contin-
ues to provide an important evidential foun-
dation for general historical research. This
sometimes takes the form of patient transcrip-
tion of archival materials, sometimes the loca-
tion of isolated historical facts that,
together with others, can be utilized in more
general studies. However, an interest in the
past for its own sake often celebrates the
irregular rather than the typical, and this
raises issues of generalizability that may be
more of a concern to a social scientist
than to a general historian (Fleischman, Mills,
& Tyson, 1996; Mills, 1993b; Oldroyd,
1999).
2. Other researchers considered that present
accounting phenomena could be fully under-
stood only with knowledge of how these phe-
nomena came about. Apparent peculiarities of
contemporary practice might have their origin
in some past practice that made sense at the
time but has persisted into contexts in which it
might no longer make sense. An example of this
is Yameys study of why in the British balance
sheet . . . the assets are placed on the right-hand
side and the liabilities and capital balances on
the left-hand side of the statement (Yamey,
1970, p. 71). Yamey sets out to explain why
19th century parliamentary draftsmen chose
this arrangement, and why it might not have
looked surprising, odd, incorrect or improper
to many of their contemporaries in the busi-
ness and accountancy worlds (Yamey, 1970,
p. 71).
3. A third strand of historical accounting research
was the attempt to debunk myths of account-
ings involvement in the emergence of Western
capitalism. The contribution of Yamey to this
debate has been of lasting inuence (Yamey,
1949, 1964, 1975), even though it has been heav-
ily criticized (for example, by Miller & Napier,
1993).
4. A fourth strand considered that study of
accountings past might be useful in helping to
resolve technical accounting problems of the
present. This is the utilitarian end of account-
ing history identied by the American Account-
ing Associations Committee on Accounting
History, which claimed that history throws
light on the origins of concepts, practices and
institutions in use today, yielding insight for
the solution of modern accounting problems
(Committee on Accounting History, 1970, p.
53).
5. Finally, as already noted, some researchers
wished to develop general theories of account-
ing change in terms of response to environmen-
tal change (Littleton, 1933).
9
Chambers English Dictionary (1990) denes an antiquarian
as one who studies, collects, or deals in relics of the past, but
not usually very ancient thingscuriosities rather than objects
of serious archaeological interest. A rare example of a purely
antiquarian paper in AOS is the note by Rorke (1982) on cat
valuation in medieval Wales.
C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507 453
The state of historical accounting research by
1975 can be discerned from the bibliographies
prepared by Parker. His select bibliography
of accounting history published in the rst issue
of Abacus (Parker, 1965) listed 231 items that
had appeared over the previous several decades.
His listing made no claims to being a complete
bibliography (he excluded articles which in my
opinion add little or nothing to our understand-
ing and knowledge of accounting historyPar-
ker, 1965, p. 62) but is nonetheless most
illuminating. Of the items listed, all but about
20 are in the English language.
10
Just under a
hundred address the ancient and early
periods (roughly before the mid-18th century).
The inuence of Basil Yamey is unmissable, con-
tributing 19 of the items listed. Parker subse-
quently updated his bibliography to 1980 and
again to 1987. These updates show a rapid
growth in the volume of historical accounting
research, but this must be viewed against a
background of comparable growth in most
research elds within accounting (Parker, 1980,
1988).
This growing corpus of historical accounting
research had its own questions and agendas,
but the emergence of new research directions
around the organizational and social aspects of
accounting in the 1970s provided a context for
raising dierent questions. Attempts to provide
richer understandings of accounting in its organi-
zational and social contexts emphasized the need
to get to grips with accounting change. And in
Britain in the 1970s, change appeared to be a
pervasive phenomenon. A rapidly growing
accountancy profession, moving into many new
areas, a new standard-setting process, interven-
tion by government in the ination accounting
debate, new forms of social accounting, greater
use of accounting controls in both private and
public-sector enterprises, calls on accounting to
change in diverse directionsall of these devel-
opments called for analysis. As Hopwood
(1985, p. 365) put it, the questions were: How
had accounting become what it now is? How
can we understand the processes of change?
How have wider issues and concerns impacted
on accounting practice?
Although questions such as these appeared to
be rmly on the agenda of the then contemporary
historical accounting research programme, the
nature and direction of work being undertaken
in the name of accounting history did not
seem to provide the kind of understanding being
sought:
There has been a tendency for technical his-
tories of accounting to be written in isolation
of their social, economic and institutional
contexts. Accounting seemingly has been
abstracted from its social domain with many
of the understandings that are available
tending to present a view of the autonomous
and unproblematic development of the tech-
nical. Where eorts have been made to oer
alternative perspectives, teleological, evolu-
tionary or progressive notions of change
have often been implicit in the understand-
ings presented. . . . [C]riticisms of such
notions of history in the social sciences . . .
and the availability of other, albeit often con-
icting, appreciations of the dynamics of his-
torical change . . . [highlighted] the partial,
uncritical, atheoretical and intellectually iso-
lated nature of much historical work in the
accounting area (Hopwood, 1985, p. 366).
By contrast, the desire to understand contem-
porary pressures for accounting change suggested
a more specic agenda of questions: How had
the social been intertwined with the accountings
10
Parker (1993) has recently warned against an excessive
Anglocentrism in historical accounting research that ignores
the substantial contributions that continue to be made in
languages other than English. Among the specialist accounting
history journals, Accounting, Business and Financial History has
been particularly anxious to make Anglophone scholars aware
of historical accounting research in languages other than
English, through review articles surveying particular countries
literatures (for example, Hernandez-Esteve, 1995, on Spain and
Camerman, 1997, on the Netherlands) and the publication of
special issues of studies by researchers from France (Boyns &
Nikitin, 2001; Parker, Lemarchand, & Boyns, 1997), Japan
(Chiba & Cooke, 2001) and Spain (Boyns & Carmona, 2002).
454 C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507
of the past and the present? What factors had
been forceful mobilizers of accounting change?
And what roles had accounting played in both
the construction and realization of the domains
of the social and the political? (Hopwood,
1985, p. 366). Answers to these questions
could not be expected from the existing project
of historical accounting research: what was
needed was no less than a new accounting
history.
The new accounting history
Because accounting researchers are not nor-
mally trained as historians, they are not necessarily
aware of methodological debates in mainstream
historiography. While the description new
accounting history has echoes of the new his-
tory that emerged in various dierent locations
and contexts during the 20th century, it should
not be assumed that new accounting history is
simply new history of accounting. Also, new
history is itself not an unambiguous term. The
New Historians of the USA in the early years
of the 20th centuryincluding Frederick Jackson
Turner, Charles Beard, James H. Robinson and
Carl Beckeremphasized variously the impor-
tance of social and economic conicts and the role
of ideas in understanding American history
(Iggers, 1997, p. 42; Novick, 1988, pp. 8893),
although without wanting to convert history into
a social science. On the other hand, Gakin
(1998, pp. 633635, following Burke, 1991, pp.
39) identies the new history as coming from
the Annales school led by Marc Bloch and Lucien
Febvre (Clark, 1985). This tended to approach the
past anthropologically, with a stress on structures
rather than individuals, and drew on disciplines
such as geography and demography as much as
economics and sociology. More generally, new
history often connotes histories from below,
rather than a focus on political and diplomatic his-
tory, on monarchs and wars, and as a corollary
tends to draw on wider sources than written
records in ocial archives. Practitioners of the
new history are often more conscious of
epistemological issues than their more traditional
colleagues,
11
considering the claim that there are
historical facts about which we can reach objec-
tive conclusions as needing to be justied rather
than being taken for granted.
Certainly all of these aspects appear to a greater
or lesser extent in much of the research identied
as forming the new accounting history, but just
as new history does not connote a single
research programme or method, nor does new
accounting history:
The new accounting history . . . does not rep-
resent a unitary research programme with
denite theoretical boundaries. It can be seen
instead as a loose assemblage of often quite
disparate research questions and issues
(Miller, Hopper, & Laughlin, 1991, p. 396).
However, research within the new accounting
history tends to dier from the more traditional
historical accounting research in a number of
ways. Not all of these dierences appear in every
example of the new accounting history, and some
of the dierences are of degree rather than kind,
but taken together they characterize a substantial
new direction.
Accounting as constitutive as well as reective
To new accounting historians, the claim that
the purpose of accounting is to reect a pre-exist-
ing and independent economic reality (whether
this is presented as a descriptive statement of
11
This is by no means to assert that traditional historians
are casual about the status of their knowledge claims, but rather
to suggest that the possibility of objective historical knowl-
edge as at least an ideal end of the research process is
fundamental to such historians. For example, the leading
British historian Richard Evans, at the end of a critique of
postmodernist theorists of history, proclaims: I will look
humbly at the past and say despite them all: it really happened,
and we really can, if we are very scrupulous and careful and
self-critical, nd out how it happened and reach some tenable
though always less than nal conclusions about what it all
meant (Evans, 1997, p. 253). Issues of evidence are perceived
as craft questions of historical research practice, rather than
philosophical questions about the possibility of knowledge of
the past. (For a comment on Evans in the context of historical
accounting research, see Napier, 2002).
C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507 455
how accounting actually functions or a normative
target for an ideal accounting system to aim at)
is considered na ve. If we regard accounts as mir-
rors of economy, we have a readily-available
explanation for accounting change: it simply
reects change in the external economic environ-
ment. Perhaps (to develop the analogy) we need
from time to time to develop more sophisticated
telescopes and microscopes to be able to cap-
ture more complex economic environments, but
this is essentially a technical problem. Moreover,
we can aspire to develop optical instruments
of accounting that lead to minimal distortion, so
that accounting information is produced for users
in a neutral manner. The limits of technical
accounting sophistication would also depend on
the external economic environment, reecting
what users of the information (whether inside or
outside organizations) were prepared to bear in
the way of costs.
While traditional views of accounting may con-
cede that particular accounting numbers, ideas
and methods may have an eect on their environ-
ment, the predominant direction of inuence is
from the environment to accounting. It is impor-
tant to observe that the categories environment
and accounting tend to be presented as distinct:
accounting is viewed as a well-dened and lim-
ited set of practices, leading to particular docu-
ments and actions, with everything else forming
the environment. However, one of the major
recognitions of recent years within the accounting
research community is that accounting is not just
reective but constitutive: it is not merely a passive
eect of its environment but works to shape this
environment. The constitutive power of account-
ing arises not just in the context of the individual
organization, but also in a wider social context.
In the organization, accounting makes possible
particular modes of action, such as budgeting,
but also shapes the organization itself, for example
as a hierarchy of cost centres. More particularly,
accounting helps to make things visible within an
organization, not in a neutral sense of enabling
more precise and detailed management in rational
pursuit of unproblematic economic goals but
rather to make possible the pursuit of economic
goals in the rst place:
A regime of economic visibility and calcula-
tion has positively enabled the creation and
operation of an organization which facilitates
the exercising of particular social conceptions
of power. Economic motives have been made
real and inuential by their incorporation
into legitimate and accepted economic facts.
The labour process in the organization has
been exposed, ordered and physically and
socially distributed. The resultant organiza-
tional facts, calculations, schedules and plans
have positively enabled the construction of a
management regime abstracted and distanced
from the operation of the work process itself
(Hopwood, 1987, p. 213).
Hopwoods discussion of the accounting inno-
vations of Josiah Wedgwood in the 1770s (Hop-
wood, 1987, pp. 214218; Hopwood, 1992, pp.
131135), and the examination by Carmona, Ezz-
amel, and Gutierrez (1997) of the Spanish Royal
Tobacco Factory around the same period of time
provide specic case studies of how accounting
renders calculable and visible the activities, and
hence the accountability, of individuals in the
work place (Carmona et al., 1997, p. 443). Other
studies of accountings role within the organiza-
tion in making things visible and thereby working
to shape the organization itself will be examined
later in this paper.
Accountings constitutive role is not limited to
the organizational level. Accounting, understood
broadly as economic calculation, plays an impor-
tant role in constituting society as economic.
While accounting may mutate and migrate in
the name of some economic discourse (such as
eciency, choice or the market), changing
in form and location, the availability of account-
ing practices and their application in new con-
texts may itself lead to shifts in economic
discourses and the ways in which these discourses
shape, and are shaped by, the social (Hopwood,
1992). Examinations of accountings role not just
as a by-product of social change but also as a set
of practices and ideas that can be mobilized to
achieve (or inhibit) social change may take a rel-
atively contemporary issue (such as the study by
Burchell et al. (1985), of value added statements
456 C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507
in the UK) or a slightly more distant one, but in
either case it is reasonable, given the use of nar-
rative form and archival evidence, to consider
such studies as examples of historical accounting
research. While there have been several other
studies (discussed below) that attempt to investi-
gate accounting change in a broad social context,
perhaps the sheer potential breadth of such inves-
tigations is inhibiting. Moreover, there have been
few studies that examine in depth the role of
accounting in national economic calculation,
despite the notion of an accounting complex
developed in the context of a review of national
accounting and planning in France by Miller
(1986) and an awareness of the relationship
between government and calculation delineated
by Rose (1991). Napier (1996, pp. 467468) has
documented how National Income Accounting
in the UK, despite early involvement of profes-
sional accountants, tended to become the domain
of economists and statisticians. However,
National Income Accounting nonetheless makes
visible certain aspects of social and economic
activity (and conceals other aspects), and there-
fore helps to constitute policy-makers views of
a society. Accounting may, therefore, have an
important constitutive role that has scarcely been
analyzed yet by historical accounting researchers
(but see Suzuki, 2003a, 2003b, for an important
exception).
Broadening conceptions of accounting
Miller and Napier (1993) have pointed out the
extent to which traditional historical accounting
research privileged double-entry bookkeeping in
its investigations of accountings past. An impor-
tant aspect of the new accounting history has
been a broadening out of accounting. With hind-
sight, the rationalization of this broadening out
(see for example Miller & Napier, 1993, p. 632)
may have had a degree of special pleading about
it, reecting attempts to transcend lines of
demarcation within the academy, but at the same
time the process of bringing a wide range of
apparently diverse practices under the heading
of accounting was reective of changes in
accountancy practice in countries such as the
UK and the USA, as large accountancy rms
moved into increasingly diverse areas of activity
from the 1960s onwards, while the scope of the
accounting function in organizations itself
expanded. Within the new accounting history,
accounting is viewed as a subset of a broader cat-
egory of calculation, the limits of which are left
deliberately vague. This reects the antiessen-
tialist nature of the new accounting history,
and an awareness that the bundle of practices
(calculative or otherwise) that happen to be
labelled as accounting at any point in time and
space is contingent (and delineating a specic
bundle and documenting the conditions of its
emergence provides a problem for historical
accounting research).
New accounting history has therefore exam-
ined such calculative practices as discounted cash
ow (Miller, 1991) and insurance (Knights &
Vurdubakis, 1993), while more contemporary
studies of the interaction of calculation and
representation from computer-assisted design
(Miller & OLeary, 1993, p. 201) to the spatial
layout of the factory (Miller & OLeary,
1994)
12
could inspire comparable studies of
earlier sites of economic activity (for example,
Carmona et al., 1997, 2002). The important
theme of scientic and engineering calculations
and their interface with costing has already been
explored in the context of the Scientic Manage-
ment movement by Miller and OLeary (1987),
but with an emphasis on measuring, controlling,
12
This study has been criticized by Arnold (1997) and Froud
et al. (1997), and defended by Miller and OLeary (1997). It
exemplies the extent to which traditional interests of account-
ing research such as recording of nancial transactions and
measurement of cost are transcended by broadening the
understanding of accounting to embrace wider forms of
economic calculation. One has to search very carefully in the
exposition of Caterpillars programme for a Plant with a Future
to discern the ways in which, for example roles and practices
of factory accounting were densely interrelated with ways of
arranging and mapping out space in Caterpillars plants
(Miller & OLeary, 1994, p. 25). Accounting no longer stands
out in contrast to a distinct environment but constitutes and is
constituted by the environment.
C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507 457
and normalizing labour time. Explorations of
calculation relating to physical engineering per-
formance of machines, and links with economic
calculation, have been undertaken by Fleisch-
man, Hoskin, and Macve (1995), and provide a
potentially fruitful area for further research.
Notions of engineering eciency and economic
eciency, the accountings and calculations neces-
sary to make these notions real, and the inter-
ventions that become possible in the name of
eciency, could underpin a research domain at
the intersection of accounting, production engi-
neering and information systems.
Widening arenas for accounting
The recognition of accounting as an organiza-
tional and social phenomenon has carried with it
an expansion of the arenas in which accounting
is understood. So long as accounting change is
regarded as the modication of technique in
response to changes in an exogenous environment,
and so long as the extent of accounting is restricted
to traditional record-keeping, the accounting phe-
nomenon can be viewed as rather local. Account-
ing change can be seen as technical improvement,
explicable as a better way of achieving a pre-given
goal (where the criteria by which the success or
failure of change is assessed are internal ones).
However, broadening out our understanding of
accounting by identifying it as social as much as
technical locates accounting in wider arenas.
Moreover, instead of regarding accounting as a
matter of individual choice by stylized decision-
makers, or as essentially a matter of individual
accountability (for example, by a manager to an
owner), new accounting history brings into its
exposition new actors: the state, institutions such
as employer collectives and trade unions, the acad-
emy, the media, and so on.
One important theme running through some
parts of the new accounting history is that of the
political economy of accounting. The mobiliza-
tion of this notion arose alongside the seminal
paper by Burchell, Clubb, Hopwood, Hughes,
and Nahapiet (1980) The roles of accounting in
organizations and society. Not only did this
paper propose a consciously iconoclastic research
agenda (we believe . . . that it is important at least
to start questioning what has not been questioned
and thereby possibly to make problematic what
may have been taken for grantedBurchell
et al., 1980, p. 6), but it rmly advocated a histor-
ical approach:
There is, we think, a real need for more his-
torical studies of the development of
accounting. Just how has accounting come
to function as we now know it? What social
issues and agents have been involved with
its emergence and development? How has it
become intertwined with other aspects of
social life? And what consequences might it
be seen as having had? (Burchell et al.,
1980, p. 23).
Finally, it warned, Such enquiries call for the-
oretical as well as methodological innovation
(Burchell et al., 1980, p. 23).
In the same issue as the Burchell et al. paper,
Tinker (1980) introduced the term political econ-
omy of accounting in his study of a single com-
pany over a period of nearly half a century. This
study provided an illustration of how accounting
as practised relies heavily on the marginalism fun-
damental to neo-classical economics, and how a
dierent economicspolitical economywould
inspire a dierent accounting. In his comment on
this paper, Cooper (1980) identied one of the
potential criticisms of the use of historical
approaches in the social sciences: the problem of
generalizability from a single case study. Cooper
himself, with Sherer, was to go on to argue in
favour of the political economy of accounting
(PEA) approach, which they saw as exhibiting
three central features: a recognition of power
and conict in society, an awareness of the spe-
cic historical and social environment within
which accounting operates, and the adoption of
a more emancipated view of human motivation
and the role of accounting in society, that is, a
view that acknowledges the potential of people
(and accounting) to change and reect diering
interests and concerns (Cooper & Sherer, 1984,
pp. 218219). Also in the PEA tradition, with a
strong appeal to historical understandings, was
the critique of Positive Accounting Theory by
458 C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507
Tinker et al. (1982).
13
Although Woodward and
Woodward (2000) have recently expressed scepti-
cism as to how far PEA actually reects wider
notions of political economy, as opposed to pro-
viding a useful slogan for a particular brand of
accounting research and argumentation, PEA pro-
vided an explicit context in which historical argu-
mentation could enter a wider domain than the
narrowly conceived organization or enterprise.
However, awareness of wider arenas of account-
ing, and wider categories of actors, is by no means
limited to PEA. Much of the research inuenced
(directly or indirectly) by Michel Foucault
attempts to delineate accounting not as a practice
in itself but as part of an ensemble of practices and
rationales that can be traced:
[T]hrough diverse public forums, by means
of the pronouncements and arguments of
politicians, experts and commentators of
various hues . . . [and] through more
restricted spheres, including the textbooks,
examinations and other pedagogic devices
of educational institutions, through special-
ized publications, advice to the government
in the form of ad hoc commissions and other
less institutionalized channels, various pro-
fessional and expert bodies, and numerous
other mechanisms (Miller & Napier, 1993, p.
634).
Not only are these various actors, and others,
sources of evidence for practices and rationales,
they act, directly or at a distance, and are acted
upon. Particular accountings emerge (and disap-
pear) against a background of government poli-
cies, themselves not autonomous but part of the
ensembles. The role of the state, as vehicle for
manifesting economic and social policies and prac-
tices, is central to the histories of value added
articulated by Burchell et al. (1985), discounted
cash ow by Miller (1991), accounting standard
setting and ination accounting by Robson
(1991, 1994), and lurks in the background of the
extensive histories of accountings project of pro-
fessionalization discussed more fully later in this
paper.
Voices from below
As already noted, one of the characteristics of
the new history is an attempt to give voice to
individuals and groups that more traditional his-
tory has tended to ignore. Not only political his-
tory but also economic and business history has
a tendency to view the actions and practices of
elites as inherently more important than the life
of ordinary people. Moreover, especially anglo-
phone history tends to put more emphasis on par-
ticular geographical locations, ethnicities and
genders than others. Broadening our appreciation
of how accounting impacts on dierent groups and
individuals, perhaps providing avenues of trans-
formation for some and coercing and restraining
others in the name of some allegedly neutral calcu-
lative technology, is certainly a signicant element
of historys power to demonstrate and thereby
challenge taken-for-granted understandings.
14
A substantial body of recent historical account-
ing research emphasizes gender as an important
explanatory factor. Following an earlier study
(Tinker & Neimark, 1987), which was one of the
rst to raise gender issues in the accounting litera-
ture, Lehman (1992) adopts a consciously histori-
cal framework to show how, despite changing
institutional structures, practices within the
accountancy profession restricting the access and
13
In a personal conversation, Barbara Merino, one of the co-
authors of this paper, has pointed out that the paper was at
least in part a reaction against what was seen as an abuse of
historical argumentation by Watts and Zimmerman (1979) in
their paper The demand for and supply of accounting theories:
the market for excuses. The fact that this paper had won the
American Accounting Associations Distinguished Manuscript
Award, despite clear methodological and evidential weaknesses,
was a matter of great concern for a signicant group within the
AAA, and the Tinker et al. (1982) paper was only one of many
criticisms of the Positive Accounting Theory movement to
emerge at that time (Tinker & Puxty, 1995, p. vii).
14
To traditional historians (not necessarily, I hasten to add,
traditional historians of accounting), this multiculturalism in
history is seen as politicizing history, as deny[ing] the
common humanity of all people, and in the end as trivi-
aliz[ing] history (Himmelfarb, 1999, p. 85), so clearly such
broadenings are threatening to certain traditional views of the
mission of historical research.
C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507 459
progress of women have persisted throughout the
century. Kirkham (1992) follows up Lehmans
research by arguing for an integration of gender
studies . . . into the central questions of the disci-
pline (p. 295). With Loft, she attempts to achieve
this through a discussion of how the construction
of the notion of the professional accountant could
be seen as a successful attempt to dene women
out of accountancy, at a time when occupations
such as clerk and bookkeeper were increasingly
becoming a female domain, by setting up rigid dis-
tinctions between the accountant and the
bookkeeper (Kirkham & Loft, 1993). Adams
and Harte (1998) conduct a longitudinal study of
corporate nancial reports to examine the position
of women in the British banking and retail sectors,
suggesting a persistence of patriarchal attitudes on
the part of management. Cooper and Taylor
(2000) use a perspective grounded in Marx and
Braverman to examine the increasing feminization
of more clerical aspects of accounting, and the
extent to which this corresponds with deskilling.
Issues of gender could also be tied up with those
of race, as Hammond and Streeter (1994, p. 281)
show in the context of attempts of AfricanAmer-
icans to enter the US accountancy profession.
Race and ethnicity are also features of studies of
accountings impact on the Maori in New Zealand
(Hooper & Kearins, 1997) and Native Americans
in Canada (Neu, 2000) and the United States
(Preston & Oakes, 2001), while Hammond (1997)
follows up her earlier study with Streeter to exam-
ine AfricanAmerican public accountants from the
mid-1960s until the 1980s. Gender issues have been
raised in the context of historical method and
overall approach. Hammond and Sikka (1996)
note the potential of oral history as a way of ensur-
ing that womens voices are heard.
15
More radi-
cally, Cooper and Puxty (1996) claim that many
accounting histories are trapped within a male
logocentric tradition (p. 306). They attempt to
subvert the belief that it is possible to write author-
itative accounting history (p. 287), using four
case studies (Hopwood, 1987; Johnson, 1981;
Nobes, 1982; Tinker & Neimark, 1987). The focus
thereby shifts from history as the discovery and
exposition of facts about the past to modes of
historical writing, of which one of the most inu-
ential modes within the new accounting history
has been that of genealogy.
Genealogies of calculation
Although only a minority of contributions to
the new accounting history are written from a
Foucauldian perspective, these writings have had
a possibly disproportionate impact on historio-
graphical debates within accounting research. As
Miller and Napier (1993, p. 633) point out, we
need to attend to the piecemeal fashion in which
various calculative technologies have been
invented and assembled, rather than look for
immobile forms that appear to move without di-
culty across space and time. This implies that we
should not expect to identify common structures in
respect to particular historical problems, and this
point has been stressed in dierent ways in two
of the pioneering contributions within this
approach, Burchell et al. (1985) and Miller
(1991). Burchell et al. locate their study of value
added in the UK by reference to three arenas:
accounting standards, macro-economic manage-
ment, and industrial relations and information dis-
closure. Value added reporting emerges (and
subsequently disappears) as these arenas shift,
with problems being identied at certain times to
which value added is perceived as the solution,
only for the problems to mutate and possibly dis-
solve. They introduce the notion of the account-
ing constellation, a very particular eld of
relations which existed between certain institu-
tions, economic and administrative processes,
bodies of knowledge, systems of norms and mea-
surements, and classication techniques (p.
400). Accounting constellations are not general
formations but are specic to particular problems.
However, delineating a specic constellation
around a problem may provide a general method
of analysis, a way into an appreciation of the net-
work of intersecting practices, processes and insti-
15
Use of oral history techniques is not restricted to the new
accounting history: Tyson (1994) interviewed garment workers,
many of whom were women, as part of his investigation into the
role of cost accounting in labour negotiations in the US mens
clothing industry.
460 C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507
tutions (p. 400) against which new accountings
emerge and mutate.
This view of genealogy as providing not a gen-
eral model but rather inducing specic narrations
is shared by Miller (1991). He studies the advocacy
of discounted cash ow (DCF) in the UK in the
1950s and 1960s as a means of achieving better
investment decision-making. This is not an exami-
nation of the technical ecacy of DCF, nor is it a
survey of how widely DCF was in fact adopted,
but rather it is an attempt to examine how
accounting change and innovation occurs not sim-
ply as a technical response to problems within the
enterprise but can occur beyond the enterprise.
The specic mode of conceptualizing the link-
ages between apparently distant elements of the
accounting constellation or accounting com-
plex is through four elements. First, problemati-
zations identify the moment at which:
[T]he real problems or diculties certain
organizations face in implementing new
accounting systems, or . . . the diculties
encountered in operating existing systems . . .
come to be identied as intrinsic to a partic-
ular calculative regime, when these dicul-
ties come to be endowed with a wider
meaning and signicance than that of their
deployment in particular organizations, and
when an alternative tech- nology can be
appealed to as resolving these diculties in
a manner congruent with their wider per-
ceived signicance (Miller, 1991, p. 737).
Programmes, the second element, are the
more general issues, such as economic growth,
with which particular ideas and practices become
connected. There is nothing inevitable about the
linkage between a programme and a specic calcu-
lative practice, so we cannot simply deduce that a
given programme calls forth that practice.
Hence concern with economic growth may be a
recurring programme of government, but there is
no necessity that it will always be linked with
DCF. The third and fourth elements, transla-
tion and action at a distance, show the inu-
ence of Latour (1987) on Miller. Translation
provides a way of conceptualizing the move-
ment between dierent persons and places,
whereby ideas and practices emerging in one con-
text may be reinterpreted in an apparently dierent
context, until the linkage can appear self-evident
rather than merely contingent. Latours notion of
translation has been used in particular by Robson
(1991) to provide an understanding of the emer-
gence of the UKs standard-setting programme
at the end of the 1960s. Action at a distance
is, as Robson (1992, 1994) has argued, a key met-
aphor for how accounting can work, through
allowing indirect rather than direct intervention
as calculative techniques make visible what is not
under direct gaze. Miller states that he is not giving
a formal model that species certain invariant
entities or theoretical categories (1991, p. 758),
and this reluctance to impose a general model on
a specic problem or event is characteristic of a
genealogical approach.
Miller and Napier (1993) stress two further
elements of genealogies of calculation. One of
these, the concern with ensembles of practices
and rationales, has already been mentioned.
The other is the discursive nature of calculation.
The investigator attempts to tease out the mean-
ings given to particular modes of calculation by
those promoting and using those calculations. It
is important to note that these are not our mean-
ings or interpretations, and often the archive will
be mute on the meanings (if any) of practices
whose traces are embodied in our evidence. It
is perhaps this reluctance to impose meaning on
the archive that critics of Foucauldian
approaches to historical accounting research nd
most dicult to accept, and indeed such a meth-
odological practice can appear to be a tacit
endorsement of the status quo (Neimark, 1990,
1994). Concern with calculation as discursive is
important because:
The vocabularies and ideals associated with
particular ways of calculating enable such
technologies to be depicted as a solution to
this problem or that, to be disseminated
through textbooks and various pedagogic
and popular mechanisms, to be embodied
in the syllabuses of various expert bodies
and appealed to as arbiters of economic real-
ity (Miller & Napier, 1993, p. 633).
C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507 461
Broadening accounting into more general eco-
nomic calculation, considering the conditions of
possibility for the emergence of accounting prac-
tices, locating calculation as a discursive practice,
and considering ensembles of practices and ratio-
nales have tended to relocate the focus of
research away from the detailed technical prac-
tices themselves to the discourses in which these
practices are located at a particular point or per-
iod in time.
16
They appeal for their evidential
base to a dierent archive rather than being
non-archival. Although some of the archival evi-
dence would be regarded as secondary sources
for studies of accounting techniques, they are pri-
mary sources for rationales, meanings and inter-
pretations (while, as already noted, the primary
accounts themselves may be opaque as to what
calculations meant and how their outcomes were
used).
17
Overall, then, the new accounting history has
expanded considerably the domain of historical
interest, utilized dierent approaches to historical
writing, highlighted the wide contexts in which
accounting operates and the diversity of actors
employing, and being acted on, by accounting.
To elucidate further the contribution of the new
accounting history, I now identify three thematic
areas in which signicant work has been under-
taken. In each of these areas, AOS has without a
doubt transformed the nature of historical, and
more general, debate within the accounting litera-
ture. Following this, I shall provide a general
appraisal of the success or otherwise of the new
accounting history in providing us with viable
accounts of change.
Themes in the new accounting history
Accounting, power and knowledge
One of the most important sources of writings
within the new accounting history has been the ser-
ies of Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Accounting
conferences held triennially in Manchester since
1985. Three papers presented at the rst of these
conferences formed a special issue of Accounting,
Organizations and Society in 1986 under the head-
ing Accounting, Knowledge, Power. Two of the
papers (Hoskin & Macve, 1986; Loft, 1986) were
among the earliest contributions, along with Burc-
hell et al. (1985), to the accounting literature mak-
ing extensive use of the work Michel Foucault.
18
As noted in the previous section, much research
of a Foucauldian nature in the accounting litera-
ture attempts to identify (or construct) networks
of people, principles and practices (accounting
constellations) and to show how accounting can
be caught in such networks. Juxtaposition of
seemingly remote settings in which accounting
operates in taken for granted, apparently unprob-
lematical ways could help to locate accounting in a
broader social context, and also reveal how
accounting, far from being a neutral instrument
of economic recording and measurement, was
implicated in power relationships. Hoskin and
Macve (1986), in a tour de force of scholarship,
16
An important exception to this is the examination by Jeacle
and Walsh (2002), Jeacle (2003), and Walsh and Jeacle (2003) of
the use of accounting and other calculative techniques in the
department store sector in the rst half of the 20th century.
These researchers study in detail accounting methods (such as
the retail inventory method) that have traditionally been
presented in textbooks as purely technical, and bring out the
ways in which the adoption of such apparently mundane
methods changed the social and economic relationships
between dierent groups (such as managers and buyers) within
the sector.
17
Recently, Hoskin and Macve (2000, p. 106) have quite
correctly observed that It is not generally possible to deduce
from the existence of the routine, formal accounting records
themselves the purpose or purposes to which the information
was put. Yes, logically, but some historians will consider it
part of their function to provide at least tentative suggestions
(Napier, 1989, p. 241). As long as these are agged up as
hypotheses, and are proered only where a search for possible
evidence to resolve the issue one way or another has proved
fruitless, the benet to the debate may outweigh the danger that
subsequent readers will take imaginative suggestions as claims
of fact.
18
The rst citation of Foucault appeared in Burchell et al.
(1980, p. 7), albeit only in a footnote, and in the strange
company of Popper and Kuhn. Gendron and Baker (2005) have
recently investigated the contexts within which the ideas of
Foucault began to inuence research in accounting in the late
1970s.
462 C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507
claim that double-entry bookkeeping (which tradi-
tional historians had explained as a gradually
evolving technique best tted to solve the
recording problems of the medieval Italian mer-
chant) was an aspect of textual rewritings gener-
ated as part of the disciplinary techniques of elite
medieval universities. They see a calculative ten-
dency feeding back into educational processes in
the 18th and early 19th centuries, and most
famously link the adoption of totalizing marking
systems in US educational institutions, of which
the US Military Academy at West Point is the
most crucial, as providing the genesis of manage-
rialism through the involvement of West Point
graduates in the management of commercial orga-
nizations such as the railroads.
Hoskin and Macve (1986, p. 197) draw on Fou-
caults notion of the calculable man (Foucault,
1977, p. 193), which also motivates Miller and
OLeary (1987) in their analysis of the construc-
tion of the governable person. This paper
attempts to reinterpret the emergence and develop-
ment of standard costing and budgeting, not as a
rened technique for more ecient management
(although they do not deny that this was a practi-
cal outcome of the development process), but
rather as an important calculative practice which
is part of a much wider modern apparatus of
power which emerges conspicuously in the early
years of [the 20th] century (Miller & OLeary,
1987, p. 235). The paper was partly motivated by
a desire to address an attempt to mobilize a more
traditional view of accounting history to support
claims that US manufacturing business was fail-
ing because of the rejection of ecient costing
and management accounting methods that had
developed in the late 19th and early 20th century
in favour of nancial accounting methods (Kap-
lan, 1984).
19
Miller and OLeary link standard
costing with such phenomena as a discourse of
national eciency in both the UK and USA,
pragmatic philosophies supporting an idea of
rational public administration, the notion of intel-
ligence testing, eugenics, and mental hygiene,
interlinked movements centring on the notion of
measurement of the individual in the cause of the
social. From this viewpoint, standard costing,
rather than standing by itself as an isolated
accounting technique of greater or lesser function-
ality, is part of an ensemble of practices and
rationales.
Critiquing the Johnson and Kaplan thesis has
also motivated Hopper and Armstrong (1991) to
attack what they see as the marriage between
accounting antiquarianism and the doctrines of
liberal economics (p. 405).
20
Rejecting the use
of transaction cost theorizing, Hopper and Arm-
strong attempt to explain the stages in manage-
ment accounting development that Johnson and
Kaplan articulate not in their terms of response
to shifting transaction cost structures but rather
in terms of changes in the labour process. Thus
the decline in internal labour contracting and its
replacement with waged labour is seen as moti-
vated by a desire to on the part of owners to
appropriate the surplus gained by internal contrac-
tors, even at the expense of increased costs (p. 416).
Scientic management and standard costing are
also seen as aiding control of labour in the inter-
ests of capital, with the basis of standard costs in
the engineering redesign and analysis of the
labour process intended to make such costs
invulnerable to the inuence of the workforce
(p. 420).
While Hopper and Armstrong would strongly
criticize the Foucauldian tendency in accounting
history (see for example Armstrong, 1994), they
note the contribution of Loft (1986), among others
working within this and other tendencies (Hopper
& Armstrong, 1991, p. 412). Lofts work is impor-
tant in that it attempts to bring together several of
the themes underlying the Foucauldian approach:
19
Kaplan relied heavily on the researches of Johnson, and
they were to collaborate on Relevance Lost (Johnson & Kaplan,
1987).
20
For a criticism of Johnson and Kaplan from a Foucauldian
perspective, see Ezzamel, Hoskin, and Macve (1990). Jones and
Dugdale (2002) discuss the rise of Activity-Based Costing,
noting the inuence of Johnson and Kaplan on this, and
Johnsons subsequent move away from an interest in mecha-
nistic accounting methods as management tools.
C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507 463
knowledge, techniques, institutions and occupa-
tional claims (Loft, 1986, p. 137). It is not just
the techniques of cost accounting that must be
studied (practices), but also how these techniques
appealed to and became embodied in distinctive
discourses (principles), and the ways in which
those techniques and discourses could be and were
mobilized by groups of individuals (people) in
order to achieve occupational status through pro-
fessionalization. She brings out how accounting is
not just a product of society but is actively impli-
cated in constituting that society:
The concept of an ecient cost-eective
nation was crucially dependent upon an
assumption that modern costing systems
would provide all the required information.
Indeed in the nationalistic vision of a recon-
structed ecient Britain can be seen the con-
cept of an ecient business enterprise writ
large (Loft, 1986, p. 167).
If Miller and OLeary (1987) and Loft (1986)
cast a Foucauldian spotlight on costing at the
beginning of the 20th century, Hoskin and Macve
(1988), and later Walsh and Stewart (1993), pro-
vided a similar gaze over costing and managerial-
ism in the early to mid-1800s. Their claims to
explain the introduction of costing and managerial
practices in terms of the disciplinary gaze that
accounting was seen to provide have been chal-
lenged through a series of archivally-based exam-
inations of early costing records in both the UK
and USA. A debate has developed between tradi-
tionalists and new historians, often over the
interpretation of the same archival and secondary
evidence.
21
The contenders have even collabo-
rated, rather inconclusively, in an attempt to carry
out a crucial experiment to determine which
approach, a disciplinary or economic one, is better
able to explain and predict actual accounting prac-
tices (Fleischman et al., 1995; see also Bryer, 2005,
for a reinterpretation of their ndings). Explana-
tions of early costing and management accounting
will continue to be explored, but at present it
seems unlikely that this theme will be an area of
major theoretical innovation in the immediate
future.
The accountant and the allure of
professionalization
Willmott (1986) was one of the earliest writers
to attempt to get beyond the ocial histories of
professional accountancy bodies in the UK in
order to apply ideas from the sociology of the pro-
fessions. Instead of received stories that presented
the professions as bodies established in the broad
public interest, Willmott described how the organi-
zation of the accountancy profession in the UK
could be seen as aected by broader political pro-
cesses. He concluded:
Anything more than cosmetic changes in the
organization of the profession and its stew-
ardship of the public interest are likely to
occur only when the interests of inuential
individuals or organized sections of the
membership are frustrated, when the state
threatens to withdraw the privilege of self-
regulation and/or when self-interested pro-
crastination over the deep-seated political
and organizational problems of the profes-
sion weakens the professions standing and
credibility, thereby stimulating public aware-
ness and concern over its privileged role as
steward of the public interest (Willmott,
1986, pp. 576577).
Loft (1986) had used a genealogical approach to
analyze the signicance of the formation of one of
these UK professional bodies (the Institute of Cost
and Works Accountants), which she saw as part of
an attempt on the part of an occupational group-
ing to establish knowledge claims to the techniques
of cost accounting.
Willmott worked with Cooper, Puxty, Lowe
and later Robson on an extensive comparative
project that examined from both a historical and
a contemporary perspective the relationships
between professional accountancy and the state.
Important elements of this project (Puxty, Will-
21
This debate is summarized in Fleischman, Kalbers, and
Parker (1996) which gives extensive references to the contribu-
tions from dierent sides, including such important papers as
Edwards (1989) and Fleischman and Tyson (1993).
464 C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507
mott, Cooper, & Lowe, 1987; Cooper, Puxty,
Lowe, & Willmott, 1989; Robson, Willmott, Coo-
per, & Puxty, 1994) showed how the very meaning
of the term profession shifted through time, and
could be exploited to facilitate re-negotiation and
promote (and occasionally constrain) occupational
change. The complex nature of the accountancy
profession in the UK, with several competing
bodies forming a shifting network of alliances
and oppositions, has also been studied by Walker.
In a series of papers (Shackleton & Walker, 1998;
Walker, 1991, 1995, 2004; Walker & Shackleton,
1995, 1998), the contexts in which professional
bodies interface with each other and with the state
are analyzed through a detailed reading of public
records, professional archives and secondary
sources.
Similar material forms the basis of the studies
of the accountancy profession in Australia. Two
broad groups of studies have complemented each
other in giving a rounded view of the issues and
personalities involved in the professionalization
project. A critical stance, informed by copious
archival material, in provided by Chua and Poul-
laos. In their research (Chua & Poullaos, 1993,
1998; Poullaos, 1993, 1994), links are demon-
strated between the diculties that a new profes-
sional organization had in obtaining closure
(preventing non-members from practising as
accountants) and the nature of markets for ser-
vices, with the attitudes of a young country to
structures that appeared redolent of the imperial
centre playing an important part in the direction
that the professionalization project took. Other
studies have been prepared to use innovative
approaches such as prosopography (the collective
biography of a dened group of individuals) to
gain a clearer view of the backgrounds of the peo-
ple involved in early Australian professionaliza-
tion projects, with Edwards, Carnegie, and
Cauberg (1997) and Carnegie and Edwards
(2001) studying the founders of the Incorporated
Institute of Accountants of Victoria. This follows
up the study by Carnegie (1993) of the emergence
and decline of a rival organization, explaining the
latter in terms of the diculties faced by a rurally-
based body in a period of increasing urbani-
zation.
In addition to studies of professional bodies,
increasingly examinations are appearing of the
work of accountants, and the problems and con-
straints that they face. The issue of professional
ethics has been investigated by Preston, Cooper,
Scarbrough, and Chilton (1995), who show how
changes in the code of professional ethics of the
US accountancy profession are translations of
both the political challenges to the legitimacy of
accountants and a wider transformation in the
culture of American society (p. 507). Sikka
and Willmott (1995) write a history of the pres-
ent by examining how the notion of professional
independence was mobilized by the UK account-
ing profession from the 1970s to protect self-reg-
ulation from perceived threats from the state. The
detailed content of auditing has become a topic
of interest, with Power (1992) showing how
apparently technical issues relating to audit sam-
pling reected deeper concerns relating to the
change in the capabilities and promise of audit,
with an appeal to science and rationality act-
ing as a mechanism by which auditors could cope
with their inability to audit in depth large modern
organizations. The theme of statistical sampling
in audit has been addressed from an institutional
theory perspective by Carpenter and Dirsmith
(1993). More recently, Gietzmann and Quick
(1998) and Napier (1998) have provided the basis
of a comparison through time and across space of
the changing role of auditor liability. Their
papers contrast how capped liability in Germany
has helped to preserve the status of auditors as
members of a free profession, while unlimited
liability in the UK has shifted from being the
badge of the auditor as professional to a con-
straint on the auditor as commercial business
advisor.
Important studies that recognize the diversity of
the practice of accountancy and the social and eco-
nomic roles of accountants continue to appear.
Outstanding among these is the book-length inves-
tigation into accountants in British management
The Priesthood of Industry (Matthews, Anderson,
& Edwards, 1998; see review by Walker, 2000).
This addresses a question raised not only by
accounting researchers such as Armstrong (1987)
and Hopper and Armstrong (1991), but also
C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507 465
within the economic and business history litera-
ture: is the presence in signicant numbers of pro-
fessionally-qualied accountants (who are usually
trained within public practice) in senior manage-
ment positions in British industry and commerce
an important explanatory factor for Britains rela-
tively poor economic performance in the last cen-
tury? In a setting where general management
education was poor if not non-existent (Napier,
1996), the debate is between those who hold that
a professional accountancy training was inappro-
priate (if not positively harmful) to successful busi-
ness management, and those (among whom
Matthews et al. would be numbered) that see a
professional accountancy training as oering, to
those capable of extracting the greatest benets,
a wide insight into the workings of the business
world as well as a sound grounding in the qualities
that facilitated good decision-making in a manage-
ment setting.
Presenting the economic: nancial reporting and
accounting theory
A movement such as the new accounting his-
tory that emphasizes the social, organizational
and behavioural has in the past tended not to have
much to say about nancial reporting or funda-
mental notions of accounting theory. Davis,
Menon, and Morgan (1982) provide a historical
study of the dierent images that have shaped
accounting theory, suggesting that accounting,
once viewed as a record of the past, and more
recently as a description of the economic present,
is increasingly being seen as an abstract informa-
tion system and even as an economic commodity.
More recently, Macintosh, Shearer, Thornton,
and Welker (2000) have applied the ideas of Bau-
drillard to suggest that accounting has changed
over the centuries from providing good repre-
sentations of reality (for example, in medieval
times through the emergence of double-entry) to
creating simulacra that no longer refer to any
objective reality.
In terms of developing a history of accounting
that fully acknowledges nancial reporting, the
central contribution, though perhaps a rather het-
erodox one, has come from Bryer. In a series of
closely argued papers, Bryer has adopted a posi-
tion rmly based in his reading of the economic
writings of Marx. His thesis is that 19th century
nancial accounting in the UK was based (at least
in its ideal form as promulgated by leading
accountants of the day) on a system that he calls
Capital-Revenue Accounting, and which he
considers recapitulates Marxs analysis of the
circuit of industrial capital (Bryer, 1998, pp. 57
62). Bryer has applied his reading of Marx in sev-
eral historical contexts, from the feudal system
(Bryer, 1994), through the emergence of double-
entry bookkeeping in the mercantile setting of
medieval Italy (Bryer, 1993a) to the 19th century.
He integrates economic, political and social his-
tory in applying his ideas to early railway account-
ing (Bryer, 1991), where he takes up a casual
remark of Marx about a railway swindle to
show how accounting could be used to persuade
speculative investors into an industry and then,
when the market collapsed and they had to sell
out at a loss, fool them into believing that the
reconstructing industry (now controlled by landed
and old-established capital) was not in fact pros-
pering as well as it was. Bryer argues that, with
the development of sophisticated capital markets
towards the end of the 19th century, Capital-Rev-
enue Accounting provided the best mechanism by
which social capital could ensure equal returns
for equal risks, thus anticipating modern nance
theory (Bryer, 1993b). More recently, Bryer has
attempted to reopen the debate on the transition
from feudalism to capitalism, by showing how dif-
ferent accountings corresponded to dierent stages
of this transition (Bryer, 2000a, 2000b). He has
also used his model of accounting signatures to
review the extant accounting evidence relating to
emergent industrial concerns in the British indus-
trial revolution, to suggest that the central feature
of the revolution was the change in social account-
ability that arose through the enlargement of
capitalism, rather than the technological develop-
ments often associated with the industrial revolu-
tion by economic historians.
While Bryers work oers a substantial volume
of careful scholarship, his overall use of Marx
has come under criticism from various fronts, for
example Tinker (1999). Meanwhile, the sheer
466 C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507
amount of Bryers work overshadows other impor-
tant contributions to the critical history of nan-
cial reporting, of which brief mention may be
made of Gallhofer and Haslam (1991), with their
analysis of nancial reports in Germany in and
after the First World War using Walter Benjamins
concept of aura to demonstrate how accounting
is understood to possess an aura in the context
of the hegemony of capitalist society (p. 487) that
could be transformed in a period of crisis. Mention
may also be made of Toms (1998, 2002), who
shows how a close historical analysis of the archive
is capable of generating evidence that puts into
context the simplicities of mainstream nancial
accounting theorizing. He shows how in the Lan-
cashire cotton mills of the 19th century, many of
which were owned by a wide group of shareholders
actively involved (often as artisans) in the industry,
voluntary disclosure of nancial reports was one
of the strategies designed to encourage democratic
ownership participation, and that concentration of
ownership and extension of collective bargaining
was met with less rather than more nancial
reporting. More recently, Toms (2005) has devel-
oped ideas of Bryer to formulate and test a more
general theory of accounting change, grounded
in a Marx-inspired political economy of account-
ing while incorporating insights from other theo-
retical strands.
Financial reporting is increasingly the object
of regulation, which may take the form of state
control through statutes, legal inuence through
the courts, or accounting standards promulgated
by bodies of diering status. Mention has already
been made of the work of Robson (1991, 1994)
on the emergence of standard-setting in the UK
and the ination accounting debate of the
1970s (a theme also investigated by Thompson,
1987). Young (1994) has studied the ways in
which accounting issues emerge and are con-
structed as problems needing the attention of
standard-setters. However, there are still impor-
tant gaps in our understanding of the develop-
ment of nancial reporting, with researchers
often paying more attention to arguably peri-
pheral issues of the appearance of nancial
statements (Graves, Flesher, & Jordan, 1996;
McKinstry, 1996) rather than the ways in which
nancial reporting is shaped and changed.
Although Harrison and McKinnon (1986) sug-
gested a framework for studying changes in
corporate reporting regulation and account-
ing policy formulation, there is little evidence
that their suggestions have been followed
up.
Appraisals and prospects
As I have identied in this paper, central to the
emergence of the new accounting history has been
a desire to understand accounting change. How-
ever, the evidence of the substantial body of liter-
ature that has been surveyed is that we face a
dilemma: either we attempt to explain change at
a general level by reference to a broad theory
(whether that is economic rationalist or Marxist),
or we view change at a specic level, with local
explanations that illuminate a particular story
but that cannot easily be transferred to other sites
of change. The general explanations of accounting
change oered by such as Bryer and Toms may
capture the inuence of wide shifts in society,
economy and polity but are not always helpful in
understanding specic changes at the micro-level.
For both Marxists and neo-classical economists,
every instance ought to be a case of the general
theory, and the challenge is to bring each case
under the general theory. The outcome of the
investigation is inevitable, and those not per-
suaded by the theory in the rst place are unim-
pressed by the intellectual gyrations that may be
needed to uncover the workings of rational eco-
nomic choice (for example) in an apparently
intractable research site.
On the other hand, those of us brought up in a
social science tradition often feel uneasy at
research that explicitly denies its generalizability,
whatever insights it might oer into our current
condition. Hence historical research in general,
and historical accounting research in particular,
will always be suspect to many social science schol-
ars (unless it seeks to apply, with or without any
specic historians sensibilities, mainstream meth-
ods of research to data from earlier periods than
would otherwise be usual). Historical research that
C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507 467
claims to eschew or at least suspend interpretation
and judgement (as has been claimed recently in
respect of Foucaults MethodsKendall &
Wickham, 1999, p. 13) can also appear to be a
method of quietism if not appeasement (Tinker,
1999, p. 663) to researchers who do not merely
wish to understand the world, but are committed
to change it.
So we return to our attempts to understand
accounting change. Underlying this mission has
always been an intellectual motivationa quest
for greater knowledgebut also a utilitarian
one (I consciously parody the Committee on
Accounting History, 1970, here). Unless we wish
to claim that the role of the scholar is purely that
of observer, we want, in some way or another, to
make things better. Perhaps this is an illusion
of immaturity that most of us grow out of, but I
believe that, underlying the desire to understand
accounting in the contexts in which it operates
and to appreciate accounting not simply as a neu-
tral technique but as a potential lever for organiza-
tional and social change, was a sense that
researchers could, in small ways, push accounting
(and thereby society) in certain directions rather
than others.
To that extent, the Foucauldian approach
could well be applied reexively to problematize
the whole concept of accounting change, identify
the conditions of possibility for its emergence as
a discursive category, locate it within an ensemble
of practices and rationales, delineate the net-
workthe constellationwithin which it is
caught for a while (in particular the interactions
between state, academy, profession and business
over the last 30 years or so) and perhaps docu-
ment its escape or dissolution. After two decades
and more of the new accounting history, we have
a much more detailed knowledge of certain
aspects of accounting in its organizational and
social contexts. We have dierent views of how
accounting has operated, and perhaps continues
to operate, to govern through calculation, with
the complex interplay of techniques which assure
coercion and processes through which the self is
constructed or modied by himself (Foucault,
1993, p. 204). We have extensive knowledge of
how the accounting profession has developed in
a few countries, and along the way we have grown
suspicious of the myth of professionalism that
accountants and their organizations have erected,
but we still have little sense of the changes that the
occupational category of accountancy is going
through and indeed how it may mutate in the
future (but then neither do the professional
bodies, torn between nostalgia and a future in
which they would probably not have been
invented).
So, if the original programme of understanding
accounting change that motivated much of the
new accounting history has failed, perhaps it could
never have succeeded. Success has come in a dier-
ent way: either in support of or in reaction to the
new accounting history, a substantial and growing
body of scholarship has emerged. Although there
is still an important place for the more traditional
history of accounting, documenting the emer-
gence and development of technical practices,
and the social science-inuenced new accounting
history will continue to study the roles of
accounting in society, we may be moving towards
a genuine accounting history, where we aim
for an understanding of how our world has chan-
ged through the lens of accounting. It is unlikely
that the future accounting history will for-
get altogether the contexts in which it emerged,
but contributions may come to be judged
more straightforwardly as history rather than as
historical sociology. Unfortunately, this may
impose particular issues of relevance. With univer-
sities and similar institutions throughout the world
under increasingly tight nancial constraint,
historical accounting research needs to justify itself
in competition with more technically oriented
accounting studies and with research that has the
appearance of responding to current real world
problems. On occasion, historical studies can be
demonstrated as having clear current relevance.
To give but one example, the work of Walker
and Shackleton on past merger attempts in the
UK accountancy profession provides a deep
analysis of the dangers and pitfalls that might
lie in wait for future attempts at merger. Not
just the UK accountancy profession, but those
in other countries with divided professional
bodies may learn from history and not be forced
468 C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507
to repeat it.
22
But if we see accounting change as
discontinuous rather than gradual, there may be
no meaningful parallels in the past whose les-
sons may be read in the present. However,
accounting historians might utilize both a societys
instincts for nostalgia and heritage (strong in
countries such as the UK) and its spirit of progress
(perhaps more prevalent in the USA and Austra-
lia) to justify a study of the past as a means of
informing the present and inspiring the future.
While history may aim to debunk myths, it is also
implicated in their creation.
Again being reexive, perhaps the concept
of new accounting history creates a false
dichotomy between theoretical and archival
researchers. Many of the contributions referred
to in the previous sections of this paper are thor-
oughly based on punctilious use of archival mate-
rial in a manner that would surely be
complimented by any mainstream historian. It is
easy to forget, faced with the more polemic objec-
tions to the new accounting history, that the work
of inspiring theorists such as Foucault and Marx
was thoroughly grounded in the archive. To take
one much debated paper (Miller & Napier,
1993), both the authors embrace rather than reject-
ing archival research: its just that their concept of
the archive extends beyond dusty account books
mouldering away in County Record Oces.
Researchers will wish to use a range of methodo-
logical approaches appropriate to the issues being
examined, rather than characterizing themselves as
traditional or new historians (categories that
may be no longer particularly helpful, given the
recent welcome call for conuence made by Fle-
ischman & Radclie, 2003). I would certainly not
see myself as having returned to the traditionalist
fold, as Fleischman and Tyson (1997, p. 104)
suggest.
What of our relationship to the archive (how-
ever widely dened)? In an important sense,
answering this question must reect our concep-
tion of how (if at all) the present and the past
are connected. I believe that Cooper and Puxty
(1996) do historians of accounting a service in
stressing the multiple readings of history, and not-
ing how far what historians take for granted may
inuence the ways in which they identify and con-
front the historical evidence. However, I dier
from Cooper and Puxty when they suggest that
all interpretations are equally valid. Yes, we can
only interpret the evidence that confronts us, and
what we count as evidence is itself a reection of
our personal preconceptions, but we are able to
debate our interpretations with each other, draw
dierent sources and residues of the past to each
others attention, and in extreme cases either agree
to dier or decide that no further conversation is
possible. In most cases, however, we proceed
through persuasion, and however much try to we
make ourselves aware of our preconceptions there
will always be areas were we are all blind to what
we take for granted. In commenting on other cul-
tures and periods, we must be humble enough to
be aware that future generations will probably
damn us, as we damn others, for failing to recog-
nize aspects of our way of life that are so embed-
ded that we are simply not conscious that they
are there.
Thus, even though we may as historians
attempt to view the past on its own terms, not
through the lens of the present, we can never be
sure that we are achieving this. To that extent,
and probably only to that extent, the past is indeed
unknowable. Despite the rhetorical ourish of
Miller and Napier (1993, p. 639) that Within
the traditional evolutionary model, the now is
always present, if only in utero, in the then, we
can see how even researchers who epitomize the
traditional model such as Yamey (1959, p.
534) are careful to note that there is no implica-
tion that present-day practice is the appropriate
standard against which to test the adequacy and
suitability of earlier practice.
The present aects the past in what we consider
interesting to research, what we consider to
count as evidence, how we argue from evidence
22
Though perhaps the attempt in 2004 to secure a merger of
the ICAEW, CIMA and CIPFA in the UK, where it appears
that chief executives of the various bodies entered into
agreements without the support of their Councils, let alone
the general membership, may suggest that lessons of the past
are not learnt.
C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507 469
to interpretation, and what we view as a plausi-
ble argument. Megill (1989) has suggested that
historical writing combines, in dierent propor-
tions, recounting tales of the past, explaining what
is being recounted, providing argument and justi-
cation in support of our accounts and explana-
tions, and interpreting what we recount. Because
the problems of historical research, and our episte-
mological approaches, change, our view of the
past also changes: existing evidence is reinter-
preted, new evidence comes into existence (archi-
val material that had hitherto been unknown
may, like the Dead Sea Scrolls for biblical exegesis,
suddenly appear to revolutionize our studies, or
previously ignored extant material may suddenly
be counted as evidence for historical accounting
research). This is not necessarily sinister, but
becomes so when utilitarian pressures force us
to limit our historical gaze to issues that can only
be considered ephemeral, making us use the past
as a data mine to help solve the problems of the
present (Johnson & Kaplans Relevance Lost,
1987 may fall into this trap), or worse asking us
to set the past up as a primitive other that we
have progressed out of.
I began with the pervasiveness of change in
accounting and I end with the pervasiveness of
change in historiography. As Ankersmit puts it:
[W]ith each new set of historical topics,
meaning is given to what seemed historically
irrelevant, meaningless, static, or belonging
to an ahistorical domain during a previous
phase in the development of historiography.
One might say that history always moves
backwards instead of forwards: it does not
penetrate deeper into what at a certain phase
is seen as the essence of historical reality, but
tends to turn away from that essence. Histor-
iography is, to use another metaphor, cen-
trifugal instead of centripetal. What were
mere details under a previous dispensation
becomes the centre or the essence under a
later one (Ankersmit, quoted in Kellner,
1994, p. 142).
One of the key contributions of the new
accounting history has been the historicization of
much that was previously ahistorical about
accounting. There are many areas in which this
process is only beginning,
23
and if the new
accounting history can be seen as turning away
from more traditional ways of researching
accountings past, perhaps a new turn is ahead of
us. But in the end we cannot answer the crucial
question: will accounting survive, or can we expect
the end of accounting? Answers to questions
such as this call for an eschatology of accounting,
not a history.
Acknowledgements
Earlier versions of this paper have been pre-
sented at the University of Wollongong, the Uni-
versity of New South Wales, Deakin University,
Bournemouth University, the University of
Southampton, the London School of Economics
and Political Science and at the Ninth Accounting,
Business and Financial History Conference,
Cardi Business School, September 1998, the
Accounting, Organizations and Society 25th Anni-
versary Conference, Oxford, July 2000, the British
Accounting Association Annual Conference,
Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, March
2005, and the Accounting and Finance Associa-
tion of Australia and New Zealand Annual Con-
ference, Melbourne, July 2005. I am grateful for
comments received at these presentations, and
also for comments from and discussions with
Garry Carnegie, Roy Edwards and David Old-
royd. I revised the paper substantially while on
sabbatical leave as a Visiting Academic Fellow
at Melbourne University Private, Australia, and
made extensive use of the Giblin Economics
and Commerce Library at the University of
Melbourne and the library of CPA Australia,
Melbourne. An anonymous reviewer made some
helpful suggestions that have improved the paper.
Most of all, I thank Anthony Hopwood for the
encouragement and support that he has provided
for more than 20 years.
23
Some potential themes and directions were identied by
Carnegie and Napier (1996, pp. 1729).
470 C.J. Napier / Accounting, Organizations and Society 31 (2006) 445507
Appendix. Historical papers published in AOS
Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/conclusions
Adams and
Harte (1998)
19351993 UK Corporate social
reporting
Published annual
reports
Links disclosure relating to gender and
employment (with special reference to
equal opportunities) to social, political
and economic context of six distinct
periods. Notes that for much of the
time corporate annual reports largely
ignored women. More recently there
has been a recognition of gender
equality issues, but rms do not
appear to have abandoned
patriarchal positions
Annisette
(2000)
20th C. Trinidad and
Tobago
Professionalization;
imperialism
Primary archives of
professional bodies,
contemporary documentation
Examines dominance of UKs Association
of Chartered Certied Accountants (and
forerunners) in education and certication
of accountants in Trinidad and Tobago.
Argues that interests of UK-based
organization meshed with those of local
accounting elite to subvert nationalistic
goal of indigenizing accountancy training.
Explains this in terms of imperialism and
dierent strategies of UK-based
accountancy bodies for penetrating colonies
Annisette
(2003)
1950s to
present
Trinidad and
Tobago
Sociology of race Interviews, primary
archives of professional
bodies, contemporary
documentation
Discusses how accountancy practice in
Trinidad and Tobago was, in the period
prior to independence, perceived racially
as white (indeed, as British). Considers
how this led to particular forms of conict
in the postindependence period, with non-
white accountants having to seek
employment with the state rather than in
public practice, and the professional body
excluding MSc in Accounting graduates,
which was associated with social actors
dened as black. Conrms ndings in
other countries that non-white involvement
in professional accountancy lagged behind
that in medicine and law
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Appendix (continued)
Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/conclusions
Armstrong
(1985)
20th C. USA/UK Labour process Literature-based Examines competition between accountants
(and other nancial specialists), engineers
and personnel managers for control over
management strategies. Observes how
management accounting came to control
labour process through range of
mechanisms, while engineering became
subordinated. Adoption of accounting
procedures strengthened position of
accountants in managerial hierarchies.
Functionalist explanations of adoption of
control mechanisms as response to
problems generated by crisis argued to be
inadequate
Armstrong
(1987)
19th/20th C. UK Labour process Literature-based Explains signicance of accountants in
British corporate management and use of
nancial controls in terms of (1) nature of
British capital markets, which provided
particularly strong role for auditors; (2)
state intervention in wartime, which
preferred indirect control through
accounting measures to direct management;
and (3) role of accountants in creating
large enterprises through mergers, meeting
need to control these organizations
through nancial methods. Power of
accountants comes largely through their
role in the allocation of surplus value
Arnold and
Hammond (1994)
19701980s USA/South
Africa
Political economy of
accounting;
ideology theory
Contemporary
documentation, secondary
literature
Studies how leading US companies used
social reporting system to justify continued
business involvement in apartheid regime.
Notes how divestment movement used
corporate disclosures to challenge
dominant ideology. Concludes that
accounting may potentially be used by
subordinate as well as dominant groups
Bailey (1990) Early 1930s USSR N/Adescriptive
paper
Contemporary literature Reviews a debate about accounting in
Soviet Union, which identied key works
as bourgeois. Identies several strands
of thought in emerging Soviet accounting,
including need to modernize and
standardize accounting
4
7
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,
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g
a
n
i
z
a
t
i
o
n
s
a
n
d
S
o
c
i
e
t
y
3
1
(
2
0
0
6
)
4
4
5

5
0
7
Ballas (1998) 19481955 Greece Critical sociology of
the professions
Professional body archives,
contemporary ocial
documentation and
secondary literature
Investigates emergence of auditing
profession in Greece after Second World
war. Notes role of state in encouraging
an indigenous professional organization,
and argues that this was motivated by a
desire to monitor managers in the broad
interests of society rather than to serve
the needs of investors and capital markets
Bealing, Dirsmith,
and Fogarty (1996)
19341940 USA Institutional theory Contemporary ocial
documentation and
secondary literature
Examines the early strategies of the
Securities and Exchange Commission
undertaken to achieve legitimacy and thus
survive. Models this as a dramaturgy of
political exchanges. Discusses eect of
enforcement actions following the
McKesson and Robbins scandal as
allowing auditors to remain eectively
self-regulated while showing SECs
positive role in regulating the nancial
reporting community
Bhimani (1993) 18981938 France Understanding
accounting
in its social and
organizational context
Primary archives,
contemporary documents
and secondary literature
Studies how factors external to an
organization inuence internal accounting
practices. Uses French car manufacturer
Renault as case study. Examines impact
of First World War in encouraging
introduction of scientic management,
and inuence of government attitudes to
statistics on development of statistical
information as aid to control within
Renault
Bhimani (1994) 1820th C. France Foucault Primary archives,
contemporary documents
and secondary literature
Looks at how labour was managed and
controlled in three French organizations
across three centuries. Documents a shift
from prohibitive, physical and personal
control regimes to productive,
calculative and administrative modes of
governance. Notes that changes in
organizational control do not react to
external changes in nature of the worker
but help to construct such changes
Bhimani (1999) N/A N/A Various (including
Foucault)
Literature-based As part of a review of cross-national
studies of management control systems,
discusses how historical perspectives can
add to understandings of how particular
national and cross-national forms of
management control reect diering
regimes of truth within specic nations
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7
3
Appendix (continued)
Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/conclusions
Boland (1987) N/A N/A Foucault N/Acomment on paper Discussion of Miller and OLeary (1987).
Examines analogy of recruitment of
soldiers before existence of standardized
tests and norms to suggest that visibility
has changed from a literal notion of
viewing the body to a more technical and
disciplinary one that soldiers themselves
internalize. Stresses that cost accounting
does not make standards and norms
possiblethe concept of the normalized
person makes cost accounting possible
Bougen (1989) 18791930 UK Understanding accounting
in its social and
organizational context
Primary business
archives
Examines introduction of accounting measure-
ments through a prot sharing scheme by Hans
Renold Ltd., in context of consideration of
use of accounting in industrial relations setting.
Notes how, despite considerable economic
progress of company during operation of
scheme, managements control over measure-
ments was associated with scepticism on part
of labour, whose direct knowledge of factory
operations could challenge the descriptions
provided by accounting
Bougen (1994) N/A N/A Literary/psychological
theories of humour
Literature-based Studies historical development of
bookkeeping and accounting to determine
how humorous stereotype of accountants
as dull and boring emerged
Bougen (1997) 19701980s Spain Deleuze and Guattaris
concept of becoming
Contemporary ocial
documents and
secondary literature
Examines the Audit Law of 1988 in Spain,
in the context of the development of Spanish
auditing and professional accountancy in the
period since 1975. Argues that Spains mem-
bership of the European Community and need
to adopt E.C. laws provided an opportunity
for readdressing the relationships between ex-
pertise and the state in the context of auditing
Bougen, Ogden,
and Outram (1990)
18701920s UK Understanding accounting
in its social and
organizational context
Contemporary
ocial reports
Reviews acceptance and rejection of
accounting for industrial relations purposes
in two episodes in British coalmining.
Notes that accounting was accepted for wage
negotiations in 1870s but was strongly resisted
by mining trade unions in early 1920s. Suggests
that accounting served dierent purposes in the
episodes, and that miners were less receptive to
accounting discourses in early 1920s because
they sought to advance moral rather than
economic arguments in wage negotiation
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s
a
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d
S
o
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i
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t
y
3
1
(
2
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0
6
)
4
4
5

5
0
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Bricker and
Chandar (2000)
19001932;
1970 to present
Mainly USA Not explicit Literature-based;
some secondary
statistical data
Argues that Berle and Means (1932)
omitted the role of investment funds and
thus mislocated the source of problems
arising from separation of ownership of
control. Notes important role of
investment funds and investment banks
in USA in period 19001932. Concludes
that investment bankers provided
countervailing power against managerial
control over rms. Observes persistence
of phenomenon in recent times and in
other countries
Bryer (1991) 18301850s UK Marx Contemporary
ocial reports and
literature-based
Reinterprets role of accounting in
railway boom and bust of 1840s as a
means by which a rational and rapacious
social hierarchythe London
wealthy expropriated wealth from
early railway investors and then mystied
the losers as to subsequent railway
performance
Bryer (1993a) 18801910 Mainly UK Marx Contemporary and
secondary literature
Uses contemporary writings to show that
a consistent framework of nancial
accounting had developed by late 19th
C. Argues that this framework consistent
with view of accountability to socialized
capital developed by Marx
Bryer (2000a) 16th/17th C. England Marx Literature-based Develops accounting signatures for
dierent phases of transition from
feudalism to capitalism. Discusses Marxs
theory of the transition by reference to
these accounting signals. Criticizes
Weber as having an inadequate vision
of capital accounting. Suggests that
Marxs explanation of the transition
may be understood as a history of
accounting
Bryer (2000b) 16th/17th C. England Marx Contemporary ocial
records; transcribed
and summarized
original records;
contemporary texts
Provides evidence to support thesis
developed in Bryer (2000a). In addition
to evidence from agricultural and
commercial contexts, a major case study
of the English East India Company from
its establishment in 16001657 (when it
became a modern joint stock company)
is provided. Finds accounting evidence to
be consistent with thesis
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Appendix (continued)
Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/
conclusions
Bryer (2005) 1719th C. UK Marx; Weber Literature-based Reviews extant research on accounting in
the British Industrial Revolution and
slightly earlier periods. Argues that
changing social relations of production
can be associated with changes in
calculative mentalities and in modes of
accounting. Goes beyond this to suggest
that accounting needs to be located in
changing historical contexts of social
accountability, and that the British
Industrial Revolution was essentially a
capitalist revolution as much as a
technological one
Burchell
et al. (1985)
1970s UK Foucaultgenealogy Literature-based Examines sudden emergence of interest in
value added accounting, in terms of
interpenetration of accounting and society.
Identies three arenasaccounting
standardization, macro-economic
planning and the quest for eciency, and
industrial democracywhose intersection
provides particular context for value
added accounting to be debated. Develops
notion of accounting constellation as
specic eld of relationships between ideas,
institutions and processes within which
value added concept can emerge in
particular way
Burrell (1987) 1318th C. Europe Various, including
Foucault
Literature-based Comment on Tinker and Neimark (1987).
Argues that there are links between
development of accounting and attempts
to expel sexuality from organizations and
repress it within society
Caramanis (2002) Early 1990s Greece Globalization and the
nation-state (Held, 1991)
Primary institutional
archives, interviews,
contemporary
documentation
Examines interconnections of politics and
accounting professionalization projects by
reference to debate over liberalization of
audit profession in 1992. Observes how,
in an increasingly globalized economy,
nation-states nd it dicult to resist
international pressures. This is not because
of abstract economic forces but because
of political pressures arising from the
mobilization of the governments of
powerful countries and of international
bodies such as the E.U., in this case by
the Big Five accounting rms
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et al. (1997)
17401770s Spain Foucaultpower/
knowledge
Primary archives Studies changing roles of accounting
within the Spanish Royal Tobacco
Factory. Observes how accounting made
various activities within the Factory visible,
and helped to construct a disciplinary
regime whereby management could
render workers calculable and thus
individually accountable
Carmona
et al. (2002)
18th C. Spain Giddenstime/space
ordering; Foucault
power/knowledge
Primary archives Compares methods of accounting control
used in an older and a newer and purpose-
designed building to analyze how spatial
layout of Spanish Royal Tobacco Factory
enabled particular modes of accounting
control. Production space in the new
factory made the production process
more visible and controllable in both a
physical and an accounting sense, and
allowed for accountability to attach to
individual workers
Carnegie and
Edwards (2001)
1880s Australia Critical sociology of
the professions
Primary archives,
contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Based around a prosopographical study
of the 45 founders of the rst professional
accountancy body in the colony of
Victoria, uses critical-conict analysis to
examine the trajectory of the professional-
ization project of accountants in that
location
Carpenter and
Dirsmith (1993)
20th C. USA Institutional theory;
sociology of the professions
Literature-based Argues that adoption of statistical sampling
by auditors was not simply a technical
phenomenon but involved a redenition
of auditors professional jurisdiction away
from fraud detection towards attestation
of the fairness of nancial statements.
A key factor in this was auditors self-
interest
Carpenter and
Feroz (2001)
19701980s USA Institutional theory Interviews,
contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Analyzes factors inuencing whether state
governments adopted GAAP in aftermath
of municipal bond market crisis. Finds
range of factors that signicantly
inuenced early adoption or non-
adoption, and notes that pressures to adopt
GAAP arose because of perceptions
that this was a symbol of sound scal
management
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Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/conclusions
Chandler and
Daems (1979)
Mid 19th to
early 20th C.
USA/Europe Economic theory
of the rm; transaction
cost economics
Literature-based,
reecting archival
research of authors
and others
Compares how accounting and
organizational innovations for managing
and co-ordinating the activities of large
rms emerged in the USA and Europe.
Suggests that developments occurred
later in Europe because mass markets
were slower to emerge than in USA, and
markets were co-ordinated more through
interrm collaboration rather than through
competition. These both reduced incentives
to develop cost control and other methods
to maximize prots
Chua and
Poullaos (1993)
18851906 Australia Sociology of the professions
(particularly neo-Weberian
and neo-Marxist approaches)
Primary archives,
contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Investigates attempt of Incorporated
Institute of Accountants in Victoria to
obtain Royal Charter, and uses evidence
to challenge some existing theories within
sociology of the professions. Concludes
that crude views of occupational mono-
poly or closure, and tight coupling of
action, interest and outcome, are
inadequate to explain events, and that
outcomes are better explained as result
of interaction of state and profession
Chua and
Poullaos (1998)
18861903 Australia Critical sociology of
the professions, Weber
Contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Analyzes the attempts of the Incorporated
Institute of Accountants to promote itself
as the leading producer of accountants in
the state of Victoria. Criticizes some
standard arguments in the sociology of
the professions: notes that exclusion of
competitors could not in practice be a key
driver of professionalization, and observes
that rival professions were less of an
obstacle than the state, the business
community and the nancial press
Chua and
Poullaos (2002)
18801907 UK, Australia,
Canada, South
Africa
Critical sociology of
the professions
Primary archives,
contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Examines the emergence of an imperial
accounting arena involving self-governing
British settler colonies. Notes how
movement of members overseas and
emergence of professional accountancy
associations in the colonies tended to pull
UK bodies (especially ICAEW) into
adopting international proles. Overseas
bodies often mimicked UK ones in structure
while claiming to oer something dierent.
Professional bodies could be allies for some
purposes and enemies for others
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Colignon and
Covaleski (1991)
N/A N/A Weber Literature-based Proposes that Webers work provides a
basis for examining accounting in the
socio-historical context of Western
capitalism. Stresses three layers of analysis:
the conguration of institutional features
of society that facilitates capitalism and
accounting; second, the tension between
formal and substantive rationality; and
third the specic examination of
organizations and accounting practices
Cooper and
Taylor (2000)
Mid-19th
C. to 1996
Mainly UK Labour process Secondary literature;
job advertisements;
ocial statistics
Argues that clerical accounting workers
have been largely overlooked by researchers.
Discusses changing roles of clerks,
particularly in context of mechanization
and computerization. Provides evidence
of deskilling by reference to changing
job specications
Cooper (1980) N/A N/A N/A Literature-based Comment on Tinker (1980). Endorses
political economy approach, but
suggests that Tinkers paper suers from
omission of detailed evidence
Covaleski and
Dirsmith (1995)
18901910 USA Institutional theory,
political-bureaucratic
rhetorical analysis
Primary archives,
contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Analyzes rhetorical strategies used by
Progressive Governor of Wisconsin Robert
M. La Follette to justify adoption of an
ensemble of calculative practices and
techniques. Concludes that the process
by which these techniques were
institutionalized reected the relative
power of interest groups and was thus
profoundly political
Davis
et al. (1982)
19201970s N/A Social constructivism Literature-based Identies four key images (accounting as
historical record, current economic reality,
information system, commodity) and
traces development of theories based on
these. Calls for longitudinal studies on
nature and consequences of accounting
images
De Beelde (2002) 19401950s Belgium Critical sociology of
the professions
Contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Discusses emergence of auditing
profession in Belgium soon after Second
World War. Although existing expert
comptable groups formalized their
structure, they were not able to establish
an occupational monopoly, enabling the
state to set up, out of nothing, a
separate auditing body reporting to
labour as well as capital, and subject to
strong state control
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Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/conclusions
Dezalay (1995) 20th C. N/A Critical sociology of the
professions, Bourdieu
Literature-based Criticizes how some sociologists of the
professions, most notably Abbott (1988),
use historical arguments in ways that
tend to disconnect professional systems
from broader social and political history
Edwards, Coombs,
and Greener (2002)
18201830s UK Conict of ideologies Parliamentary papers,
contemporary documentation
and secondary literature
Explains the failure of an attempt to
introduce double-entry bookkeeping into
the British governments accounting in
terms of a clash of ideologies between a
more traditional and aristocratic focus on
stewardship and personal accountability
and an emerging commercial focus on
performance, which was at the time the
relatively weaker ideology
Flamholtz (1983) N/A N/A Transaction cost economics Literature-based Comment on Johnson (1983). Suggests
that emergence of management accounting
may have been earlier than 18th C. Also
calls for more research into implications
of movement of labour into factories
Flesher and
Flesher (1979)
18141824 USA Transaction cost economics Primary archives Describes accounts of an early communistic
community and compares with those of
other communities. Suggests that the
environment within which the community
operated gave rise to need for sophisticated
accounting control system
Gallhofer and
Haslam (1991)
18701910s Germany Critical theory (Frankfurt
School)
Primary archives,
contemporary documentation
Develops a theory of the aura of accounting.
Illustrates by reference to accountings
changing aura in Germany, noting how
a scandal involving the use of secret
reserves by Daimler to conceal war prots
led to accountings aura shifting from
neutrality and objectivity to a manipulated
political mechanism
Gietzmann and
Quick (1998)
18701990s Germany Corporate governance Contemporary press
articles and secondary
literature
Examines the origins and development of
a universal statutory cap on auditor
liability in Germany. Links this to the
nature of the German auditing profession
and its formal establishment in 1931, and
the role of the auditor in the German
system of corporate governance
Graves
et al. (1996)
1940s to present USA Rhetoric of visual design Published annual reports As part of broader study, reviews sample of
US companies and analyzes early use of
pictures in their nancial statements.
Notes that expansion in use of pictures
coincides with Age of Television
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Hammond (1997) 19651988 USA Institutional/legal
environment approach
Interviews, professional
body statistics, press
and journal articles
Shows that public accounting profession
reacted to Civil Rights legislation by
making visible eorts to recruit African
Americans. However, even after 25 years,
African Americans were still grossly
under-represented, and early short-term
recruiting initiatives tended to disappear
by the 1980s
Hammond and
Streeter (1994)
20th C. USA Racism theories Interviews; contemporary
literature
Studies experience of African Americans
in struggling to become Certied Public
Accountants. Reveals obstacles faced by
these pioneers and the eorts they went
to in overcoming them. Concludes that
African Americans are still
under-represented
Harrison and
McKinnon (1986)
19461982 Japan Social systems
research
Contemporary literature Develops method of analyzing change in
social systems and applies to Japanese
corporate reporting regulation system.
Examines three change processes: the
postwar US occupations introduction of
a US-style regulation system and how this
changed to a more Japanese system based
on the Ministry of Finance; the
development of corporate audit; and the
development of consolidated reporting
Hooper and
Kearins (1997)
18701880s New Zealand Foucaultpower/
knowledge
Primary archives,
contemporary ocial
and court documentation
Examines use of accounting and other
documentary records by colonists in a
pre-literate, oral society to acquire legal
ownership of land. Provides evidence of
how maintenance of detailed accounting
records of debts and advances, coupled
with exibility of measurement bases,
could facilitate transfer of land from
collective Maori ownership to individual
European control, thus demonstrating
and exemplifying the power of accounting
Hopper and
Armstrong (1991)
1920th C. North America Labour process Literature-based Critiques Johnson and Kaplan (1987).
Explains accounting controls as attempts
of rms to control labour in various epochs
of capitalist development. For example,
accounting for direct labour costs was
implicated in the move from internal
subcontracting to direct employment in
the factory system
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Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/conclusions
Hopwood (1987) 1770s; 1970s England Foucaultarchaeology
and genealogy
Literature-based
and eld work
Reviews and evaluates existing perspectives
on accounting change. Argues that these
are often ahistorical, atheoretical,
teleological and technicist. Provides three
case studies, two of contemporary
organizations and one of the English
potter Josiah Wedgwood in 1770s. Notes
that many factors can potentially intrude
into the organization and stimulate change,
but that accounting itself can change as a
consequence of organizational processes
accounting is seen as in motion
Hopwood (1988) 1970s UK N/A Personal reminiscence Discusses background to setting up of
Accounting, Organizations and Society,
noting irony that journal was published
by company implicated in major UK
accounting scandal of 1960s, and that
teaching based on scandal provided crucial
point of contact with companys chairman,
Robert Maxwell
Hopwood (2005) 19752005 N/A N/A Personal reminiscence Reviews background to setting up of
Accounting, Organizations and Society
and considers how journal has changed
over the last 30 years. Suggests that the
growing forces of conformity in
academe in recent years would make the
creation of a similar journal much more
dicult today
Hoskin and
Macve (1986)
13th/14th C.;
19th C.
Europe; USA Foucault Literature-based Uses a Foucauldian power-knowledge
analysis to explain emergence of double-
entry and long delay until emergence of
more modern notions of accounting and
accountability in terms of techniques of
writing and examining. Double-entry is
viewed in terms of Foucaults concept of
double sign, and as a specic form of
a general textuality emerging in 14th
C. Creation of calculable man traced to
educational practices of marking.
Introduction of new examination regime
at West Point seen as inuencing
management on early US railroads via
West Point graduates
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Hoskin and
Macve (1988)
18101850s USA Foucaultpower/
knowledge
Contemporary
documents transcribed
in published business
histories
Examines development of piece-rate
accounting in Springeld Armory.
Argues that this reects inuence of new
educational disciplines and examination
practices at US Military Academy at
West Point and that accounting changes
eective only as part of a general
disciplinary framework. Suggests that
West Point inuence also responsible for
line and sta accountability structures
on US railroads. Challenges alternative
explanations based on economic rationalism
Jackson (1992) 18th C. Germany N/A Literature-based Links Goethes attitude to managing the
natural world with German doctrines of
Kameralwissenschaft (the science of
administration), and 18th C. ideas of
natural law as the underpinning of
society. Goethes view of nature was
expressed in economic terms, while his
theories of economy and politics were
based on theories of nature
Jeacle (2003) Early 20th C. USA/UK Sociology of translation
(Callon, Latour)
Contemporary
documentation (including
primary archives) and
secondary literature
Examines the ways in which retailers dealt
with the costs of altering ready-to-wear
clothing to show how accounting was
implicated in the development of the idea
of standard sizes and hence the standard
body
Jeacle and
Walsh (2002)
19201930s Mainly USA Foucault (disciplinary
power and governmentality)
Contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Studies the use of accounting-based
measures of consumer creditworthiness by
department stores, compared with making
credit judgements based on personal
knowledge of the customer. Notes how
this represented a shift from decisions
based on the character of the individual
to those based on the individuals
behaviour. Accounting makes this
behaviour visible
Johnson (1983) Late 18th C.
to present
USA/UK Transaction cost economics Literature-based,
reecting authors
archival research
Suggests that management accounting
developed to provide information
necessary to manage internally-controlled
resources of rms, which have been
created in order to generate higher returns
than are possible from transacting purely
through markets
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Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/conclusions
Jones and
Dugdale (2002)
19841990s Mainly
USA/UK
Actor-network theory;
dynamics of modernity
(Giddens)
Interviews, contemporary
documentation and
secondary sources
Traces the emergence of Activity-Based
Costing (ABC). Identies dierent strands
of development of ABC. Notes the pivotal
role of management consultancy in
advancing ABC, and the rapidity with
which ABC moved from a specic
technique to becoming an abstract system.
Discusses transformation of ABC into
Activity-Based Management and observes
how this tted well with downsizing/delay-
ering management philosophies of 1990s
Jo nsson (1991) 20th C. Sweden Develops theory of accounting
as being made legitimate
through reecting concerns
of its social and political
environment
Summary of studies
based on contemporary
literature
Studies developments in municipal,
nancial and cost accounting. Suggests
that in a strong state setting, accounting
needs to inltrate existing power structures
and accountants need to present themselves
as trustworthy enough to develop
accounting rules. Most issues were
discussed in terms of practical experience,
and theory had little role
Kirkham (1992) N/A N/A Gender theory Literature-based Comments on Lehman (1992). Suggests
that Lehmans herstory is in fact written
from the male perspective of professional
accountancy and ignores contemporary
womens struggles. Calls for broader
studies of gender and accounting,
suggesting that accounting was from an
early time gendered as male
Kirkham and
Loft (1993)
18701930 UK Gender theory; sociology
of the professions
Census data; contemporary
documents; secondary
literature
Discusses how accountancy in the UK
came to be constructed as both
professional and mans work by
distinguishing it from clerical and
bookkeeping activities, which were
increasingly constituted as womens
work. Shows how, in 1870, accounting
and bookkeeping were not distinguished
as occupational categories, and that they
were almost entirely male, whereas by
1930 accounting and bookkeeping were
clearly distinguished in terms of social
status and gender
Knights and
Vurdubakis (1993)
1720th C. Mainly Europe Foucault Literature-based Links developments in views of risk as
object of insurance with transformations
in aims and means of government,
culminating in construction of state-
sponsored apparatus of social insurance
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Sawabe (1996)
1620th C. Mainly Japan N/Areview paper Literature-based Review of Takatera (1992). Discusses in
particular Takateras more historically-
focused research
Lamb (2001) Mid-19th C. UK Foucaultmodes of
power; calculable person
Contemporary private
and ocial papers and
secondary literature
Aims to extend understanding of taxation
as a social and institutional practice
reliant on accounting, by using a contem-
porary personal record of the experience
of appealing against a tax assessment.
Notes how taxing individuals incomes
rendered individuals as calculable persons
and observes how sovereign power of
local Commissioners of Taxes developed
into disciplinary power of Inland
Revenue
Larsson (2005) 19652000 Sweden Critical sociology
of the professions;
new institutional theory
Ocial documents,
contemporary
secondary literature
Investigates the development of auditors
responsibilities to report suspected crime,
leading to a statutory duty introduced in
1999. Explains this in terms of political
pressures rather than as a response to
scandal or crisis. Notes that government
was successful in imposing this duty on
auditors only when it could be expressed
in terms of enhancing the working of
markets and improving industrial
democracy, rather than as a type of
police activity
Lehman (1992) 19001980s Mainly USA,
some refs. to UK
Feminism Contemporary published
material
Reviews how womens access to the
accounting profession has been restricted
at dierent times in 20th C. Shows
persistence of discriminatory practices.
Uses feminist theories of conict to argue
that position of women in accounting has
depended on socially imposed roles and
expectations, and that addressing
discrimination at an individual level will
fail to achieve radical change in these
Lehman and
Tinker (1987)
19601973 USA Discourse theory Accounting and
nancial journals
Examines role of accounting as a symbolic,
cultural and hegemonic force by analyzing
publishing patterns of three journals.
Concludes that the content of accounting
journals changes to reect changes in the
external social and economic environment
and that discursive accounting practices
should be regarded as ideological tools
used in conicts over the distribution of
social wealth
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Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/conclusions
Lewis, Parker, and
Sutclie (1984)
19191979 Mainly USA Not explicit
descriptive paper
Literature-based Identies and analyzes references to
employee reporting in accounting and
business literature. Finds strong uctuation
in volume of literature, and links this to
socio-economic factors (new technology,
merger activity, antiunion sentiment,
economic recession). Notes that issues re-
occurred repetitively. Observes sudden
increase in interest in employee reporting
in UK and Australia after 1972
Loft (1986) 19141925 UK Foucault Primary institutional
archives, interviews,
contemporary press
Examines growth of cost accounting in UK
during First World War, and attempts to
use costing for postwar reconstruction.
War saw signicant growth in occupational
grouping of cost clerks, and paper reviews
formation of Institute of Cost and Works
Accountants, and tensions in establishing
professional status in competition with
older bodies. Discussion of whether main
goal of Institute was occupational
protection (and upward mobility for cost
clerks) or developing costing knowledge
MacDonald and
Richardson (2004)
19501965 Canada Regulatory space
(Hancher and
Moran, 1989)
Primary institutional
archives, contemporary
documentation
Studies the early years of the Ontario
Public Accountants Council, examining the
evolving roles of the Council as it
established, defended, attempted to enlarge
and armed its regulatory space. This
in part involved demarcating public
accounting from other forms of accounting,
and this tended to exclude certain groups
from the public accounting market in Ontario
Macintosh (1999) 19201930s USA Economics of regulation Contemporary
documentation
Reviews the debate over corporate
accountability between Adolf A. Berle and
E. Merrick Dodd in the early 1930s.
Considers the context for this debate and
notes how the outcome of the debate
(that the only eective check on corporate
management was full disclosure) inuenced
the securities legislation of 1933/34
Macintosh
et al. (2000)
Earliest times
to present
World Baudrillard Literature-based Traces development of and changes in
relationship between accounting signs
(particularly income and capital) and the
social/physical reality that they claim to
represent. Argues that accounting no
longer refers to an objective reality but is
instead largely self-referential
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Maltby (1997) Mid-19th C. Germany Understanding accounting
in social and historical context
Literature-based Examines portrayal of accounting in
Gustav Freytags novel Soll und Haben
(1855) in order to understand signicance
of accounting for 19th C. middle-class.
Argues that accounting embodied and
supported middle-class values or orderliness
and rationality
Manninen (1996) 19601980s Mainly USA Sociology of knowledge Contemporary
documentation,
interviews, secondary
literature
Reviews the research on allocation of
Arthur L. Thomas, and academic reaction
to this research, suggesting that relative
disregard for his ideas was a consequence
of the general move away from conceptual
research in accounting during the 1970s
McKinstry (1996) 19301994 UK Not explicit Published annual reports Describes design of annual reports of
Burton PLC. Identies a dramatic change
in use of design from 1980, and links this
with signicant increase in sales and
prots and company moving towards
becoming an aggressive corporate acquirer
McKinstry (1997) 18801890s UK Sociology of the professions Primary archives,
contemporary
documentation,
secondary literature
Investigates planning, layout and decoration
of Chartered Accountants Hall, London,
as symbolizing claims of the Institute of
Chartered Accountants in England and
Wales about the extensive roles that
accountants could undertake and hence
the status of the emerging profession
Merino (1993) 20th C. USA Pragmatism Literature-based Studies proprietary theory as a response
to emerging corporate economy of early
20th C., providing a way of reconciling
passive ownership of corporations with
traditional justications of private property.
Suggests that there were contradictions in
accounting theorists approach: theorists
understood the partisan nature of
accounting but some recommendations
were inconsistent with view of shareholder
sovereignty
Miller (1986) 19301970s France Foucault Literature-based Review of Fourquet (1980), a study of
the relationship between accounting and
national planning in France. Argues that
we need to study the specic historical
conditions of emergence for ideas and
practices, but notes that these are conditions
of possibility and do not determine
outcomes in a causal way. Stresses role of
accounting in actually creating particular
social and organizational forms
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Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/conclusions
Miller (1990) 16601680s France Foucault/Latour Literature-based Reviews ways of theorizing relationship
between accounting and the state and
rejects functional and external factor
theories of state development. Uses
Colbert period of Louis XIVs reign in
France to illustrate more complex model.
Innovations in accounting and government
emerged from a range of sites and achieved
coherence within a particular rationale
of government. Accounting is useful within
programmes of government because of
reciprocity between particular
accountings and abstract rationales
Miller (1991) 19301960s UK FoucaultLatour. Develops
model of problematizations
programmestranslation
action at a distance.
Contemporary
literature
Argues against view of Johnson and Kaplan
(1987) that development of discounted
cash ow (DCF) was exceptional in coming
from academics striving for relevance
rather than practitioners innovating in the
face of practical problems. Examines role
of British state in encouraging rms to
adopt DCF in 1960s, and characterizes
this as a political programme that sought
to intervene in the economy while
maintaining a distance from specic
investment decisions
Miller et al.
(1991)
N/A N/A N/A N/Aintroduction
to collection of
historical studies
Attempts to explain the emergence of the
new accounting history and calls for a
historical appreciation of how accounting
practices and rationales come to be formed
Miller and
Napier (1993)
1720th C. Mainly UK
and USA
Foucault Literature-based Calls for genealogies of calculation
instead of traditional accounting histories.
Provides summaries of four genealogies,
based on Miller (1991), Hopwood, 1987,
Burchell et al. (1985), and Miller and
OLeary (1987)
Miller and
OLeary (1987)
18901930s Mainly USA
and UK
Foucaultgenealogy,
archaeology,
power/knowledge
Contemporary
literature
Investigates emergence of standard
costing and budgeting and relates this to
other social practices. Argues that
accounting served to make the individual
worker visible and calculable. This is
located in wider social framework of
emergence of social sciences and changed
conception of role of the statea shift in
the form of administration of social life
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Miller and
OLeary (1990)
1930s USA Understanding accounting
in its social context
Contemporary
literature
Attempts to provide a broader
understanding of accounting innovation.
Examines process of making accounting
practical through three themes: developing
concept of the corporation as democratic
and contractual entity; developing concept
of individual as rational and responsible
decision maker; and the specic and
localized political culture of 1930s USA.
Stresses that rationales of accountancy
are historically contingent concepts
Mills (1993a) 19th C. USA/UK Legal theory Literature-based Reviews literature on historical accounting
research involving analysis of case law.
Suggests that much prior literature has
taken for granted a static notion of
contract, whereas in practice courts
attitude to contract was dynamic
Mills (1993b) N/A N/A N/A Literature-based Cautions against misuse of historical
argument in accounting research, by
reference to historically-based agency
research. This is criticized for studying
subjects out of context, reading present
theories back into the past, and determinism
Mills and
Young (1999)
19211996 USA Legal theory, sociology
of the professions
Legal cases, statutes
and secondary literature
Reviews case law relating to CPA licensing
laws. Notes a shift in legal arguments
from freedom of contract to freedom of
speech. Identies how courts have permitted
uncertied accountants to practise under
the accountant title and CPAs employed
outside practising profession to use the
CPA title. This has weakened the
protection that legislation previously
granted to CPAs and enhanced competition
Moore (1991) 1970s to present N/A Critical theory Literature-based As part of general review of Critical
Accounting, comments on use of
Foucaults ideas and methods in historical
accounting research. Criticizes Miller and
OLeary (1987) as politically conservative
Napier (1998) 1830s to present UK Legal theory, corporate
governance
Legal cases, government
reports, secondary
literature
Outlines the development of the law
relating to auditor liability, against a
background of calls for this to be limited.
Notes how accountants were broadly
supportive of the introduction of unlimited
auditor liability in the 1920s. Concludes that
current debate and possible future legislative
changes need to be understood against a
background of sometimes apparently
remote and accidental legal developments
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Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/conclusions
Neimark and
Tinker (1986)
19161976 USA Labour process Published nancial
statements
Critically assesses theories of organization
derived from neo-classical economics,
particularly for their lack of a socio-
historical perspective. Develops alternative
dialectical approach to control. Illustrates
advantages of dialectical approach
through study of strategy of internatio-
nalization followed by General Motors
as disclosed in companys annual reports.
Finds that strategy was response to
impediments to capital accumulation in
USA and changes in strategy responded
to dynamics in social and economic
environments in which General Motors
operated
Neu (2000) 18301860 Canada Foucaultgovernmentality Contemporary ocial
papers and other material
Claims that accounting discourses and
techniques were signicant in control of
indigenous people in Canadaaccounting
was central to the imperial project.
Documents how accounting was used to
encourage changes in the habits and
customs of indigenous people, particularly
with relation to ownership and occupation
of land
Oakes and
Covaleski (1994)
19501960s USA Labour process Contemporary
documentation
Examines how organized labour becomes
involved in accounting-based incentive
plans. Studies three specic examples.
Concludes that unions wished to manage
incentives in order to achieve other
objectives, but that these were constrained
by nature of US unionism during period.
Local particularities of prot sharing need
to be understood in larger context of
labour processes
Oakes and
Miranti (1996)
1910s USA Agency of individuals Contemporary
documentation
Uses an intervention by leading US jurist
Louis D. Brandeis in a discussion of
railroad rate setting to illustrate role of
individuals in historical development of
accounting. Notes that the involvement
of Brandeis allowed advocates of
scientic management the opportunity
to become more involved in railroad
costing
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Picciotto (1992) 20th C. Global Economic theory of the rm Literature-based with
use of law cases and
ocial documents
Reviews the development of tax law in
the area of international transfer pricing.
Notes the emergence of the arms length
criterion and applies economic theory of
the rm to show contradictions implicit in
this. Examines alternative ways of
allocating prots of transnational
corporate groups to dierent tax
jurisdictions
Power (1992) 20th C. UK/USA Understanding auditing in
its social context (also
refers to Hacking)
Contemporary audit
texts and other material
Argues that statistically-based sampling in
audit developed to rationalize and
legitimate practices of test checking in place
since before 1900. Suggests that underlying
scientic aspirations of US accounting
helped to translate statistical sampling
from the eld of social investigation to
that of audit. Use of statistical sampling
helped to strengthen status of auditor as
expert
Preston (1992) 20th C. USA Foucaultgenealogy Contemporary and
secondary literature
Notes that the development of accounting
based on principles of cost disbursement in
US medicine emerged within a conuence
of discourses covering medical knowledge
and practice, the management of
hospitals and the provision of health
care. Argues against a view of hospital
accounting as driven by purely economic
logic
Preston
et al. (1995)
19001917;
19701988
USA Critical sociology of the
professions; legitimation
theory
Contemporary
documentation
and secondary literature
Examines US accountancy professions
codes of ethics promulgated in 1917 and
1988. Shows how the dierent codes
reected dierences in how accountants
sought to legitimize themselves in the two
periods studied: in 1917, accountants were
constituted as ethical subjects, whereas in
1988, their morality is dened by and
limited to a set of rules
Preston and
Oakes (2001)
19301940s USA Art theory Contemporary ocial
documents
Considers how the US Bureau of
Agricultural Economics used a range of
methods, including accounts, to construct
the Navajo in economic terms, facilitating
the provision of a solution to the
Navajo problem of soil erosion. In fact,
the solution proved disastrous to the
Navajo
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Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/conclusions
Quattrone (2004) 16th/17th C. Italy Holistic individualism,
(de)-dierentiation,
double reductionism;
critical theory of modernism
(Latour)
Primary archives and
contemporary documentation
Develops a theoretical framework to
understand roles played by accounting in
operations of Society of Jesus. Argues that
accounts did not merely serve economic
functions, but reected the Jesuit personal
accounting for sins, the creation of
order within the order, and the alignment
of personal goals with those of the order.
This is interpreted against the background
of developments in Roman Catholicism
during the Counter-Reformation
Radclie (1998) 1960s to present Canada Foucaultgovernmentality Interviews, contemporary
documentation,
secondary literature
Examines emergence of eciency auditing
in Alberta in terms of the links between
political rationalities and more specic
programmes for action. Local
circumstances provided climate for interest
in modern management techniques, this
allowed eciency to become the object
of auditing, and government auditors were
able to draw on wider discourses to
support change and construct themselves
as experts
Ramirez (2001) 19201939 France Bourdieu Contemporary documentation,
including government archives
Investigates why attempts to establish
professional accountancy bodies in France
before Second World War failed. Suggests
that accountancy practitioners were
associated with salaried accountants and
that accounting science was regarded as
only a secondary body of knowledge.
Also, state had no interest in developing
professional body. Critiques view that
accountancy necessarily regarded as
occupation worthy of professional privileges
Robson (1991) Late 1960s UK Latour Contemporary documents
including archives of
professional body; interviews
Examines emergence of accounting
standards in UK as example of
translationproblems of accounting
and auditing articulated by the state and
others were translated in terms of the
ideals of a self-regulating profession, with
outcome that a lack of standards for
auditors was solved through promul-
gating nancial reporting (not auditing)
standards
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Robson (1992) N/A N/A Latour Literature-based Advocates considering accounting numbers
as inscriptions facilitating action at a
distance. Uses three qualities of inscriptions
(mobility, stability, combinability) to
provide new insights into development of
accounting
Robson (1994) 1970s UK Latour Interviews, contemporary
documentation
Studies ination accounting episode in
terms of government acting at a distance
upon organizations and institutions.
Examines four arenas (industrial relations,
counter-ination, industrial policy and
taxation policy) in terms of policy
discourses and rationales, accounting
techniques, and calculations
Robson et al. (1994) 1980s UK Ideology of professional
regulation
Contemporary
documentation
Examines three episodes involving
regulation of UK accountancy profession.
Argues that outcome of episodes reects
interplay between a professional ideology
of accounting legitimizing a regulatory
role and an expansion of markets for
accounting labour
Rorke (1982) 10th C. Wales None Literature-based Discusses valuation of cats and draws
parallels with current accounting issues
Rose (1991) 1920th C. USA Foucaultgovernmentality Literature-based Review essay, which examines increasing
use of number and calculation in governing
the democratic state. Specic reference is
made to the development and use of
census data and to the numericization
of the economy through National Income
Accounting. Concludes that modern
democracy requires numerate and
calculating citizens
Sikka and
Willmott (1995)
1920th C.
(mainly
19701990s)
UK Critical sociology of the
professions
Contemporary ocial
and other documentation
and secondary literature
Observes that challenges to professional
jurisdiction come not only from other
professions but from external sources such
as press, academe, politicians. Studies way
in which image of independence was used
by British accountancy profession as a way
of resisting threats to selfregulation
Simmons and
Neu (1997)
19361950 Canada Critical sociology of the
professions; hegemony.
Contemporary
documentation,
secondary literature
Analyzes editorials in professional journal
to examine how professional organization
interprets external economic, social and
political changes to membership and how
journal reects occupational elites views.
A move away from antigovernmental
editorials towards technical ones is linked
to a change in the regulatory status of the
professional body
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Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/conclusions
Sotto (1983) 1860s France Not explicitreview paper Literature-based Reviews work of Proudhon on roles of
accounting. Concludes that Proudhons
social accounting is of doubtful practicality,
but that Proudhon had anticipated some
current concerns, including idea of
accounting as a mode of managing
economy and juridical value of accounting
Suzuki (2003a) 17th C. to
present
N/A Epistemology, rhetoric,
Foucault (governmentality)
Literature-based Studies how macro-economics came to
understand and measure economic reality
in accounting terms. Suggests that, though
claims that accounting represents pre-
existing economic reality in a neutral way
are unsustainable, the construction of
economic society in terms of accounting
relied on rhetorical claims about
accountings ability to measure phenomena
objectively, and thus helped to express the
economy as a possible object of active
management rather than just a collection
of random activities and event
Suzuki (2003b) 19301950s UK Critical epistemology; social
constructivism
Primary archives and
contemporary
documentation
Traces emergence of national accounting
in the UK as a process of envisioning the
national economy in accounting terms.
Emphasizes the role of economist Richard
Stone in this process, and notes how Stone
worked actively with a professional
accountant (Frank Sewell Bray) in
developing his technical understanding of
accounting
Takatera and
Sawabe (2000)
19th C. N/A Institutional theory;
social constructivism
Literature-based Considers emergence of accrual accounting
in 19th C. as an example of socially
constructed reality in which the chaos of
cash ows is transformed into the order
of smoothed periodic income
Thane (1992) Late 18th C.
to present
UK Feminist theories of
gender and class
Literature-based Reviews status of women in British work-
force from before the Industrial Revolution
to present. Argues that no existing theory
fully explains empirical data, notes that
persisting male prejudice may be an
important factor, in that patriarchal
instincts may collide with capitalist
instincts, and suggests that it may be
desirable to combine elements of existing
theories
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Thompson (1987) 19701980s UK Political economy of
accounting
Literature-based Reviews development of ination accounting
debate in UK Suggests that monetary
amounts in nancial statements are not
representations but rather signs. Argues
for a theory of calculation that does
not regard accounting as simply
representation
Thompson (1991) 15th/16th C. Various Rhetoric (refers also to
Foucault and Derrida)
Original documents
and contemporary literature
Provides analysis of Paciolis Summa de
Arithmetica (and some subsequent writings
on double-entry) in terms of rhetoric.
Concludes that Paciolis exposition of
double-entry gained its signicance from
being the rst printed book on double-
entry rather than merely its rst
exposition
Thompson (1998) 15th C. to
present
Various Theories of visualization Contemporary
documentation
Compares forms of visualization of the
economy and the rm in accounting and
economics. Links development of double-
entry bookkeeping to emergence of
mathematical ideas of proportion and
perspective in renaissance art, and identies
early presentations of the economy as
forms of social accounting and forerunners
of national income accounting
Tinker (1980) 19301975 Sierra Leone Classical political economy Published nancial
statements
Classies period of study into four
institutional regimes and argues that
distribution of companys revenues is
determined by changing socio-political
forces. Income distributions (particularly
to local workers) determined by
socio-political factors rather
than by marginal
productivity of labour
Tinker
et al. (1982)
13th C. to 20th C. General Historical materialism Literature-based Compares positivism with historical
materialism. Provides brief history of value
theory, identifying alternative ways of
conceptualizing value. Argues that
accounting takes for granted a marginalist
notion of value, identies the social
ideology underpinning accounting thought,
and speculates on alternative directions
that accounting could follow if dierent
notions of value were applied
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Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/conclusions
Tinker and
Neimark (1987)
19171976 USA Political economy
of accounting
Published nancial
statements
Examines issue of female oppression, shows
that corporate reports help to construct
an ideology of womans place in society.
This ideology is more than patriarchal: it
is intimately connected to capitalisms
patterns of capital accumulation. Illustrates
with a longitudinal study of nancial
statements of General Motors. At
dierent times, this portrays particular
views of women as consumers, in the home,
and as (generally low-level) participants in
the workforce. Reports are seen as
coercive, ideological weapons manipulating
the social imagination about women
Toms (1998) 18551914 UK Political economy
of accounting
Contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Examines nancial reporting by cotton
spinning companies based around Oldham
in south east Lancashire. Observes that
disclosure was more extensive when
company ownership was widely dispersed,
including signicant worker investment.
As ownership became more concentrated,
disclosure levels declined
Toms (2002) 18701914 UK Political economy of accounting
(following Bryer, 1993)
Contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Tests Bryers model of accounting change
in context of the change from co-operative
to capitalist socialization of capital in
Lancashire cotton industry. In the co-
operative phase, nancial reporting is
largely cash-based, auditors are amateur
and detailed reports are made to investors.
Later, full accruals based accounting
becomes standard practice, audit becomes
professional, and greater secrecy about
internal nances becomes the norm
Toms (2005) 17002000 UK Marx, political economy
of accounting
Contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Develops a theory of accounting change,
using social ownership of capital and
location of resources as variables that give
rise to dierent control objectives, dierent
accountability relationships, and thus
dierent accounting techniques. Uses the
British cotton industry as an empirical
case study, identifying six transitions in
the structure of the industry and examining
the accounting changes that were associated
with each transition
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Uche (2002) 1960 to present Nigeria Critical sociology of the
professions
Secondary literature Investigates the emergence and development
of accountancy profession in Nigeria. Notes
the signicant role of the state in this, and
draws distinctions between impact of
military and civilian governments on the
professionalization process
Uddin and
Hopper (2001)
1971-c. 1995 Bangladesh Political economy of accounting,
labour process, particularly
Burawoy (1979, 1985)
Interviews, observation,
contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Studies how role of accounting systems is
shaped by and helps to shape state and
production politics, by examining a
manufacturing company during a period
of nationalization and one of privatization.
Notes how, during nationalization,
accounting systems were marginalized and
control was exercised through political
interventions. After privatization,
accounting controls became more
signicant and were imposed in a coercive
manner on managers and the shop oor
workers
Walker (1991) 18541914 Scotland Critical sociology of the
professions
Contemporary
ocial papers
Examines challenges to domination of
Scottish chartered accountants on grounds
of professional privilege. Notes how CA
monopoly was defended by appeals to
functionalist view of role of professions
in society and through mobilization of
superior resources and links with legal
profession
Walker (1995) 1853 UK Critical sociology of the
professions
(critical-conict approach)
Contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Studies the establishment of Scottish
professional accountancy bodies as a
response to proposals from London-based
group that would have threatened
accountants in Scotland. Notes how the
proposals were grounded in free trade
philosophy of mid-Victorian Britain and
led to mobilization of a counter-ideology
of nationalism. Establishment of
professional bodies was not part of social
mobility project but intended to protect
established economic and social status
Walker (1998) 19th C. UK Understanding accounting
in its social context
Contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Based on an examination of household
management manuals and domestic
journals, concludes that accounting was
important in the management of the
middle class household, and that domestic
accounting systems sustained a patriar-
chal hierarchy and contained women in
domestic roles
(continued on next page)
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J
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p
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r
/
A
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c
o
u
n
t
i
n
g
,
O
r
g
a
n
i
z
a
t
i
o
n
s
a
n
d
S
o
c
i
e
t
y
3
1
(
2
0
0
6
)
4
4
5

5
0
7
4
9
7
Appendix (continued)
Paper Main period Location Theory Evidence Summary of ndings/conclusions
Walker (2000) 18701980 UK Not explicitreview paper Literature-based Reviews Matthews et al. (1998). Critiques
authors functionalist and determinist expla-
nations for growth of accountants in UK
businesses. Argues that authors give insucient
attention to social and political factors
Walker (2003) Early 20th C. USA/UK Social construction of gender Contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Studies the application of principles of
scientic management to the household,
examining how household accounts, among
other calculative techniques, were advocated
ostensibly as ways of enhancing the status
of women in the home (the household
engineer), but in practice were devices for
keeping women at home (womens space)
and out of the work force (mens space)
Walker (2004) 1870s UK Critical sociology of the
professions
Primary professional
archives and
contemporary
documentation
Reviews the background to the establishment of
professional accountancy bodies in four English
cities. Notes that, while competition for
jurisdiction over bankruptcy is conventionally
seen as an important factor, the earliest body to be
established was actually supported by the legal
profession, while this and other bodies put more
emphasis on dening professional status by
excluding less reputable practitioners.
No single paradigm of professionalization
explains all aspects of the actual development of
early English accountancy bodies
Walker and
Shackleton (1995)
19301957 UK Corporatism Primary professional
and governmental
archives
Investigates attempt to co-ordinate British
accountancy profession during 1940s
against background of wartime discourse
of reconstruction. Discusses establishment
of a Co-ordinating Committee and notes
how the Committee failed to unite the profession
behind legislation to secure a legal monopoly
of public practice, but that the co-ordination
movement led to mergers among the leading
accountancy bodies in the 1950s
Walsh and
Jeacle (2003)
19201930 USA Foucault (disciplinary power) Primary archives,
contemporary
documentation and
secondary literature
Studies the adoption of the retail
inventory method of accounting by
department stores, and analyzes this not
only as a technical innovation but also as a
mechanism for providing control over
department store buyers. The method
created a new visibility enabling senior
managers to control buyers at a distance
through the use of a calculative technique
4
9
8
C
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J
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N
a
p
i
e
r
/
A
c
c
o
u
n
t
i
n
g
,
O
r
g
a
n
i
z
a
t
i
o
n
s
a
n
d
S
o
c
i
e
t
y
3
1
(
2
0
0
6
)
4
4
5

5
0
7
Walsh and
Stewart (1993)
16811703;
18001812
UK Foucault Primary archives,
contemporary
documents, secondary
literature
Examines archives of New Mills Woollen
Manufactory and New Lanark Cotton Factory
to demonstrate dierences incontrol over labour
made possible by use of bookkeeping and
accounting based not only on things, but also
on people and spaces. Challenges more
traditional historical views that give minimal
role to accounting for management
Wardell and
Weisenfeld (1991)
19001970 USA/UK Comparative method;
industrial relations
Literature-based Aims at explaining why management
reporting based on standard costing and
variance analysis became widespread in
Britain some 3040 years later than in the
USA Suggests that labour activism and
management styles diered: in the USA,
higher management aimed for direct control
over the workforce, while in Britain, work-
force activism combined with paternalism
allowed less formal methods to persist
Whitley (1986) 19501980s USA Not explicit Literature-based Reviews how business nance, as an
applied and mainly descriptive subject,
was transformed into nancial economics.
Locates this change as eect of expansion
of business schools and attempts for
research and teaching of nance to become
more scientic. Changes in US capital
markets provided increased demand for
investment analysis and portfolio
management, and nancial economics
provided intellectual tools for these functions
Willmott (1986) 18501980s UK Critical sociology
of professions
Literature-based Reviews dierent sociological approaches
to understanding professions, and adopts
a broadly critical approach. Examines
struggle of professional bodies to gain
state recognition and to exclude lesser
practitioners. Reviews successful and
unsuccessful merger attempts of dierent
bodies. Suggests that UK accounting
profession faces potential threats, and
that accountants are becoming more
commercial and less professional
Young (1994) 19701980s USA Regulatory space
(Hancher and
Moran, 1989)
Interviews,
contemporary
documentation
Uses concept of regulatory space to
understand how accounting problems
are constructed. Examines three cases
(accounting for loan fees, accounting for
leases, depreciation and contribution
accounting for non-prot organizations)
to show how concept helps to provide richer
understanding of how accounting issues are
included on or excluded from FASBs agenda
C
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g
a
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i
z
a
t
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n
s
a
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d
S
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i
e
t
y
3
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2
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4
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5
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7
4
9
9
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