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Accounting for Foucault

Alan McKinlay and Eric Pezet

CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON ACCOUNTING, 2010, vol. 21, issue 6, 486-495

Abstract: Michel Foucault's concept of governmentality has been central to critical accounting research for two decades, a centrality that has placed systems of calculation as the starting point of discussions of the state, the firm and the market. We begin by outlining the development of governmentality in Foucault's own work. Despite the rich, productive nature of the concept, Foucault was careful to define governmentality as broadly and loosely as possible, the better to convey its open-endedness. The second section considers the introduction of Foucault to accounting research. The combination of Foucault and accounting history is not at all obvious, but became possible because a series of important contextual studies demonstrated that accounting history had to consider both the historicity of the profession and that its practices were vital in constructing measures of organisational performance, not simply uncovering previously obscure or hidden social realities. Moreover, accounting history studies the production of targets and measures of progress towards utility and welfare, processes that are not reducible to the firm or even to economic calculation. Our third section outlines the genesis of the ‘London School of governmentality’ and the main strands of their theoretical contribution. Finally, we examine the governmentalists’ analysis of corporate restructuring and the introduction of new production organisation by Caterpillar. Our aim is to use the Caterpillar case as the vehicle for a broader consideration of governmentality, strategy and the enterprise.

Date: 2010
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