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Auditors as modern pharmakoi: Legitimacy paradoxes and the production of economic order

Henri Guénin-Paracini and Yves Gendron

CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON ACCOUNTING, 2010, vol. 21, issue 2, 134-158

Abstract: Despite a continuous flow of audit failure episodes the auditing profession keeps on being seen as technically and morally legitimate. This paper seeks to better understand how the paradox that surrounds the legitimacy of financial auditing develops. Relying on René Girard's theoretical developments on scapegoating, sacrificial rituals and mythification, we argue that auditors are often (but not always) selected as sacrificial victims in the wake of major corporate scandals. Rationalized mythologies are mobilized in the process by which auditors are morally and/or legally condemned, in a way which maintains or strengthens the legitimacy of the financial audit function. Fundamentally speaking, we contend that financial auditors can be conceived of as modern pharmakoi, constituting a reservoir of victims to sacrifice whenever fraudulent financial statements surfacing in the public arena threaten to severely disrupt the credibility and smooth-functioning of capital markets. We confront our theoretical translation of Girardian theory to the empirical domain through an analysis of the breakdown of accounting firm Arthur Andersen, in which we examine how the legitimacy paradox surrounding the financial audit function is produced and reproduced. One of our key conclusions is as follows: despite claims which commonly celebrate the rationality of capital markets, the latter's functioning and the sustaining of economic order are predicated on the production and reproduction of mythologies.

Keywords: Arthur Andersen; Audit failures; Construction of myths; Economic violence; Legitimacy paradox; Sacrificial rituals; Scapegoat construction (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2010
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