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Accounting as a dehumanizing force in colonial rhetoric: Quantifying native peoples in annual reports

Sean Bradley Power and Niamh M. Brennan

CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON ACCOUNTING, 2022, vol. 87, issue C

Abstract: This paper examines quantification adopted by the British South Africa Company (BSAC) in its portrayal of native peoples in annual reports. In its colonization and administration of Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe), through a royal charter, the British Crown outsourced government to the BSAC, a private-sector, for-profit company. The royal charter imposed non-economic, public-benefit responsibilities on the company, including duties for advancing the native peoples’ interests. The research analyzes annual-report narratives referencing native peoples extracted from a continuous collection of the BSAC’s first 29 annual reports over a 35-year period, 1889–1924. The analysis focusses on the BSAC’s quantification of the natives, their deaths, their health and their livestock, supplemented by analyzing the BSAC’s use of rhetorical framing and the rhetoric of silence in its portrayal of native peoples. The BSAC mobilized quantification rhetoric to demonstrate delivery of its responsibilities/duties to advance the native peoples’ interests. Quantification dehumanized the native peoples, sanitizing their deaths in service of the company’s profitability, for the London audience for the BSAC’s annual reports. The BSAC silenced the supposed beneficiaries’ voices, the native peoples. The findings highlight how the BSAC used supposedly neutral annual reports as an instrument to mask its exploitation of the colony’s native population. The paper contributes to an understanding of how colonialists used accounting as an instrument to promulgate colonial propaganda and ambitions and to mask the means by which they achieved their objectives.

Keywords: Colonialism; Native peoples; Indigenous peoples; Quantification rhetoric; Framing; Silence (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
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Persistent link: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:eee:crpeac:v:87:y:2022:i:c:s104523542030126x

DOI: 10.1016/j.cpa.2020.102278

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