بازشماری شمارش و حسابداری : از محاسبات سیاسی تا حیطه های اندازه گیری و بازگشت
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|359||2009||12 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Volume 20, Issue 7, October 2009, Pages 835–846
Humans have, for centuries, measured and quantified their world and themselves in various ways. This ‘quantifying impulse’ reached an early peak in Europe in the era of political arithmetic, from the late seventeenth through the eighteenth centuries. The overall purpose of this paper is to examine contemporary attempts to measure intangible qualities and to compare them to similar attempts from the political arithmetic era. The discussion is structured using three themes; the idea of balance, the search for correlations and the conception of human nature. The findings of the paper indicates that the era of political arithmetic is not so distant at it might seems.
This paper critically reflects on efforts to measure intangibles1 in contemporary organizations, comparing these with similar attempts in the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries—the era of political arithmetic. Measurement in general and the measurement of intangibles, such as human qualities, in particular have long histories. Regarding the latter, humans have, for millennia, measured and quantified themselves in a range of ways; a census is referred to in the Bible (Luke 2:1), and as early as the Middle Ages, measurement was a popular method in several disciplines (Crosby, 1997 and Crosby, 1999). Time, money, and humans have all been measured and quantified. The quantifying impulse2 in Europe reached an early peak in the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries (Frängsmyr et al., 1990, Johannisson, 1988, Johannisson, 1990, Johannisson, 1995 and Porter, 2001a; see also Crosby, 1999, Crosby, 1997, Höjer, 2001 and Wide, 2005). This impulse to measure comprehensively influenced European society; there were no limits to quantification—everything could be measured and quantified. Easily measurable phenomena were measured and analyzed, and there were more original attempts to measure qualities such as ethics and devoutness. Those holding political power used quantitative measurement – ‘political arithmetic’ – as a tool in developing a rational and effective society. The term ‘political arithmetic’ was coined by William Petty in the late seventeenth century (see Hull, 1963, who has edited a collection of Petty's writings). One could believe that the interest, as it was expressed during the era of political arithmetic, is old fashioned and obsolete, however, the contemporary interest in measurement remains high, and at the level of the organization the aim of measurement is to help develop a more rational and effective organization. In the contemporary era, which is described as an age of measurement (Porter, 2001a) or of organizational measurability (Catasús et al., 2007, p. 505), our lives largely revolve around measurement. We become subjects of quantification and measurement at birth,3 and measurement continues throughout life. It is not my intention to completely analyze the differences between measurement in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and today; my intention is to promote discussion, raise questions and reflect critically (see e.g., Alvesson, 2006, Alvesson and Deetz, 2000 and Alvesson and Sköldberg, 1994) rather than to provide definite answers. In considering the measurement of intangibles I focus on three themes: the idea of balance, the search for correlations and the conception of human nature (elaborated in Section 4). These three themes have been selected as they were important during the political arithmetic era and remain so; for example, the idea of balance and the search for correlations are themes evident both in the political arithmetic era and in current organizational management control models. Questions relating to these themes are discussed, such as whether there are any links between conceptions of human nature as described in the era of political arithmetic and those of today. My approach is to view the measurement of intangibles by today's organizations from a distant, historical perspective, or, as the historian Barbara Tuchman (1978) puts it, in a ‘distant mirror’.4Tuchman (1978) uses the ‘distant mirror’ concept as a way to see ourselves looking at past times, because an analysis of the present is “to close for comfort”. Using such a historical perspective, or ‘distant mirror’, should contribute to a somewhat new view of the present. The mirror concept has been used, discussed and criticized by numerous authors. One assumption is that a mirror ought to mirror reality just as it is recalls the representationalist school of thought (Rorty, 1991), according to which language is regarded as a perfect mirror of practice, i.e., ‘language-as-mirror practice’. This view has been criticized by many, including Alvesson and Kärreman (2000), Hoskin (1996), Holmgren Caicedo (2005), as well as Dahlin and Mårtensson (2005). ‘There are different sorts of mirrors and all mirrors do not necessarily produce similar reflections. A plane mirror does not reflect in the same manner as concave or convex mirrors do. Depending on the object's location, concave mirrors may produce images that could be enlarged or reduced in size or even the same size as the object. The images may in addition be inverted, upright or blurred by spherical aberrations. Instead, a convex mirror, sometimes called a diverging mirror due to its ability to take light from a point and diverge it, produces upright images that are reduced in size. What, then, is the right image?’ (Holmgren Caicedo, 2005, p. 12). It is not only the design of the mirror that might affect the image—there is also a time dimension. A mirror with an old glass might reflect the object differently from a mirror with a new glass. A ‘representation is always of something or someone, by something or someone, to someone’ (Mitchell, 1990, p. 12), ‘within a certain context and is thus not free of concerns’ (Holmgren Caicedo, 2005, p. 12). Despite its difficulties, I still think that the mirror metaphor is useful; it can sometimes be difficult to see alternate, competing and challenging conceptions of a contemporary phenomenon from the vantage point of the time in which we are living (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000). A challenge for a researcher adopting a historical perspective is concerned with what could be told about the history using our contemporary views and ideas. The distant mirror in this case is Britain from the late seventeenth through the eighteenth centuries—the era of ‘political arithmetic’. In this regard, the present research has been greatly influenced by the work of Swedish historian of ideas Karin Johannisson, 1988, Johannisson, 1990 and Johannisson, 1995, which deals with the ‘measurement impulse’ in seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe. Johannisson is far from the only scholar who has studied the era of political arithmetic,5 but she has a unique focus on the consequences of measurement. Among other matters, she highlights conceptions of human nature, introducing an interesting discussion of how measurement might affect humans. When I first read her research, I was struck by how her analysis of political arithmetic and related concepts was equally applicable to the present day: there were numerous, interesting and suggestive links to the measurement aims of contemporary organizations. These similarities will be further explored in Section 4, where the three identified themes will be discussed. An important difference between Johannisson's and my work is the level of analysis: Johannisson's analysis focuses on society as a whole, on how political arithmetic was regarded as a tool with which to develop a rational and more effective society; in contrast, my analysis focuses not on society but rather on the organization (interestingly, many contemporary organizations are striving to become more rational and effective, just as nations did in the political arithmetic era). Our work also differs in terms of the purpose of the analysis. Johannisson is quite critical in describing the measurement attempts of the political arithmetic era, whereas the result from my analysis is to be more nuanced, including reflecting on contemporary measurement attempts. The empirical material cited in this paper mainly comes from two studies focusing on intangibles. One, a study of the management control of intangibles,6 was part of the European research project, Meritum, which was conducted between 1998 and 2001 (for an overview of Meritum see Cañibano et al., 2002). The other study was conducted at the Swedish national tax board (Mårtensson, 2000). These studies used interviews and action research and examined various types of private and non-profit organizations (for more details about the studies, see Appendix A). Before introducing the history of political arithmetic – my ‘distant mirror’ – I will first briefly introduce some fundamental ideas concerning measurement.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
This final section summarizes and discusses some possible consequences of measuring intangibles in general and human factors in particular. The paper concludes with a discussion of why political arithmetic came to a sudden end, if that was indeed the case. 5.1. Measurements of intangibles—what could the consequences be? Contemporary measurements of intangibles have, according to several of the studied organizations, contributed to building up and strengthening knowledge of various kinds. Sometimes these measurements have produced new knowledge, while in other cases they have simply reproduced existing knowledge or confirmed knowledge that had hitherto only been thought probable. Several representatives I interviewed referred to situations in which the results of the measurements have been influential, saying that measurements ‘… provide us with arguments for doing something’. Yet, not everybody was so enthusiastic: ‘Often we know the answers before we make the measurements; the results of the measurements only give us a “receipt” for what we already knew’. However, even though the answers are not always clear, the results of the measurements can apparently provide the organization with new knowledge and increase future opportunities to focus on learning, action and competitiveness: ‘To some extent we have learnt things that we did not know before …’. When measuring intangibles in general and human factors in particular there is a risk that what is being measured (e.g., human factors) may reductively become a mere object to be divided into measurable components and described using the language of measurement (Johannisson, 1988 and Mouritsen and Johanson, 2005, compare also Miller and O’Leary, 1987). Another way of describing this is to say that measurement – or ‘quantification’ as Porter puts it – is a ‘technology of distance’ (Porter, 1995, p. ix). On the other hand, measurement attempts could also treat the human as a subject, and in this regard Hällsten (1997) refers to the treatment of the human as a valuable form of capital or as a resource. Reducing humans and labelling them ‘costs’, ‘resources’ and ‘capital’ can also be discussed from an ethical point of view. The economist von Thünen argued that it is possible to describe a human as capital without depriving him or her of freedom and dignity. He even argued that putting monetary values on humans could be positive: it could lead to better treatment of humans, and could be a way of indicating that every single individual is inherently of value (Johansson and Nilson, 1990). An interesting question that could be raised concerns not only what measurements contribute to, but what they neglect in doing so. As the adage tells us, what is getting measured is getting managed, so what is not getting measured is not getting managed. To what extent this is a truism merits reflection, and for discussion of this, see Catasús et al. (2007). This recalls the words of Swedish sociologist Johan Asplund: ‘As soon as we turn towards something, we are turning away from everything else. The more absorbed we are in one issue, the more deaf and blind we are to the rest of the world’ (Asplund, 1987, p. 13). If measurement issues become the focus of attention (i.e., whether resources, time, money and commitment are being expended), what other issues are consequently being disregarded or even neglected? 5.2. Political arithmetic—the end of the story? How were the rather radical ideas of political arithmetic received at the time? How did the surrounding social environment react to such ideas, with shock, anger or surprise? As far as Johannisson (1988, p. 42) has been able to determine, most contemporary reactions were positive. There were, however, two major exceptions, namely those of Adam Smith and Jonathan Swift. The economist Adam Smith attacked political arithmetic in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Smith, 1776 in Johannisson, 1988, p. 14). Jonathan Swift satirised the idea of political arithmetic in his 1729 work, A Modest Proposal (Swift, 1729). He dissociated himself from the often rough and careless calculations conducted by the advocates of political arithmetic, and severely criticized attempts to measure and value humans in monetary terms. Swift's satirises political arithmetic and its calculations, concerning, for example, the number of poor children in Ireland, in the work fully entitled ‘A Modest Proposal for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick’. The question raised by Swift was how these children would survive the first six years of life, a period when they were not productive and had no possibility of supporting themselves. At this time they were regarded as only a burden to society and to their parents. Swift's satirical solution to the problem included cannibalism: ‘a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragouts’ (Swift, 1729). How overt and vital is current critical debate concerning the measurement of intangibles? Many researchers and practitioners in the field are arguing for more and better measures and models, including ever more factors. So far, however, there has been almost a total lack of discussion about how measurements affect – if they do affect – organizations and the individuals in them as part of management control; there is a particular lack of research and discussion concerning the possible consequences of the measurement of humans. There are however a few exceptions such as Hoskin (1996), Johanson (2003), Johanson and Mårtensson (2006), Mouritsen and Flagstad (2005), Mouritsen and Johanson (2005), Mouritsen and Koleva (2004), Mårtensson (2007), Roslender and Fincham, 2001 and Roslender and Fincham, 2004 and Thorbjørnsen and Mouritsen (2005). Political arithmetic never became the success its advocates had hoped for. In the eighteenth century, political arithmetic was already starting to lose ground as it became obvious that its ideas would never be fully realized. Political arithmetic was no longer regarded as a potential political instrument; it eventually abandoned its political aspirations, and became more like a science, and measurement was instead used to compile demographical data and not as an instrument with which to fulfil political ambitions. Slowly, political arithmetic was incorporated into the descriptive part of political science or what we today call statistics (Johannisson, 1988, pp. 57ff 14). One underlying reason for the failure of political arithmetic was the gap between its theory and practice. It was more difficult than expected to unite the ideas of political arithmetic with political and religious ideas. Moreover, collecting the data needed for the calculations proved impossible. This was partly because British citizens deliberately gave wrong answers, as they feared that the information could be used against them by the government, for example, to increase taxation levels (Johannisson, 1988, p. 59). What if modern employees deliberately provide the wrong information in filling out surveys and information forms, what happens to the management control model then? At the department of human resources of a major Swedish authority, several representatives described how, for many years, they had used ideas and methods (i.e. measurements) connected to human resource costing and accounting. However, the representatives also described how they eventually became disillusioned as their expectations of the methods were never fulfilled. Human resource costing and accounting thus became more of a control instrument than an active management control system (this seems to be the major reason why work on human resource costing and accounting was dropped from the research agenda; cf. Johanson, 1999). The efforts with human resource costing and accounting became numbers with no given content. Sveiby (1997) argues that measurements can be treated merely as an instrument for initiating dialogue among people in an organization. The measures as such have no meaning; it is rather the dialogue that is created around them that is essential, which was lacking at the Swedish authority. The Meritum guidelines for managing and reporting intangibles hence suggest that a narrative (Czarniawska, 1997) be added to the measures (Cañibano et al., 2002; see also DATI, 2001 and Mouritsen et al., 2001). Measurement could thus be regarded as a process by which several dimensions are first simplified and reduced in number so that they can be measured; then, to be able to analyze the measure meaningfully, the number must be brought back to life by increasing the complexity. How does this process affect the content? Political arithmetic is described by Johannisson (1988, p. 13) as a utopian social science project that failed. How will current attempts to measure intangibles in general and human qualities in particular be described 200 years from now? How will future interpreters of ideas such as the balanced scorecard and intellectual capital describe the conception of human nature embodied in these models? Will these ideas be described as successes or as failures or will they just be forgotten? What has been shown in this paper is that there are many parallels between contemporary attempts to measure humans and political arithmetic's. Question for future research is what can we learn from political arithmetic that might help us to avoid making the same mistakes in our attempts to measure intangibles.