کار کثیف و ساخت هویت؛ مطالعات قوم نگاری از شیوه های حسابداری مدیریت
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|10316||2013||17 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Accounting, Organizations and Society, Volume 38, Issue 3, April 2013, Pages 228–244
This paper examines the processes by which identity work influences accounting and organisational practices. Analysing ethnographic material, we study how accountants engage in a struggle for recognition in a context where tensions emerge from the confrontation between idealised occupational aspirations and situated possibilities. To theorise this struggle we draw on Everett Hughes’s conceptualisation of a moral division of labour. Building on his concept of “dirty work”, we differentiate between the “unclean” and the “polluted”. Accountants have to perform tasks that are incompatible with the aspirational identities they claim; more than “boring”, these tasks become symbols of misrecognition. We call these unclean tasks. Yet even tasks that, in a more favourable context, would be associated with prestigious aspects of the job, can become degrading in specific situations. We call them polluted work. We highlight how trying to comply with a positively-anticipated role transition can help avoid unclean work yet generate more polluted work. Our analysis suggests that paying greater attention to symbolic differentiations between prestigious and shameful aspects of work can improve our understanding of accounting, identity work and organisational practices.
Accounting influences the production and reproduction of individuals’ interpretive schemes, their sense of self, and the construction of their identity (Roberts, 1991). However, there is still much to learn about how identity construction influences accounting and accountability processes. Drawing on Giddens’ (1991) theorisation of (self-)identity as a reflexively organised narrative, Alvesson and Willmott (2002) show that individuals do not passively conform to social pressures; rather, they actively position themselves within conflicting identification possibilities. More precisely, Alvesson and Willmott’s argument is that individuals attempt to enact coherent, distinctive constructions of themselves through processes they call “identity work” (see also Knights & Willmott, 1989). They study how organisational control is exercised through the orientation of these self-positionings and self-constructions, in the form of discourses designed to influence individuals’ self-identity narratives – a process they call “identity regulation”. In this paper, we investigate the processes by which identity work influences accounting and organisational practices. Does one individual have the power to influence accounting production and/or its use so as to make it more consistent with his or her vision of him- or herself? What happens when two or more individuals, participating together in the construction of accounting numbers, adopt conflicting self-positionings? How do their identity claims and identity work influence accounting users’ own narratives and views, and how are they influenced by those narratives and views? The part played by management accountants is of interest for our research, since they work at the boundaries between production and use of accounting numbers. Previous studies illustrate the diversity of tasks and practices undertaken by management accountants (Ahrens, 1996, Ahrens and Chapman, 2000, Burns and Baldvinsdottir, 2005, Granlund and Lukka, 1998a, Granlund and Lukka, 1998b, Hopper, 1980, Mouritsen, 1996 and Sathe, 1982), usually relating them to two alternative roles for management accountants – the bookkeeper role and the business-oriented role. The bookkeeper role involves number-crunching tasks and is generally presented as a traditional not to say old-fashioned orientation for an accountant (Friedman and Lyne, 1997 and Granlund and Lukka, 1998a). Business-oriented management accountants, in contrast, are expected to help and advise managers (Hopper, 1980 and Sathe, 1982), take part in daily operational decision-making processes (Ahrens and Chapman, 2002 and Granlund and Lukka, 1998a) and undertake strategic interventions (Ahrens, 1997). As a result management accountants are exhorted, and assumed to be willing, to become more and more business-oriented (Burns and Baldvinsdottir, 2005 and Järvenpää, 2007). This trend is seen by many researchers as a positive development that is undeniably progress. However, these analyses neglect the moral and symbolic aspects of work, overlooking the insecurities and fragility of management accountants’ sense of self, their subjectivity and identity construction. The focus on professional and political aspirations leads these studies to disregard the ways in which management accountants become subjugated as their sense of self is shaped through normative pressures. Axel Honneth (1995) argued that, being vulnerable to the judgement and evaluation of others, subjects engage in a struggle for (identity) recognition. Normative pressures produce considerable tension and anxiety as people try to secure a sense of self. These tensions, which may result in negative feelings and defensive actions, have a dramatic influence on identity work (Alvesson and Willmott, 2002 and Knights and Willmott, 1989). Understanding of organisational practices can thus be furthered by considering how organisational members try to secure a positive identity for themselves in a struggle for recognition. These factors and their consequences can be better understood by considering organisational practices as embedded within what Everett Hughes (1956) calls a “moral1 division of labour”. Studying the relations between work and the self, Hughes showed how members of an occupation create a symbolic separation between the types of task they undertake, based not only on technical distinctions but also on moral distinctions related to the prestige, pride, or alternatively the shame or disgust they feel for undertaking them. These symbolic hierarchies relate to the distance between the role actually performed and an ideal of the role as normatively defined by an occupation. To achieve a valued identity, members of an occupation create a positive image of their role and work, but that image remains vulnerable to (non- and mis-)recognition by audiences and may be undermined when tasks apparently incompatible with their claimed identity must be done. These tasks constitute what Hughes (1951a) calls their “dirty work”. A person’s status and identity depend on his/her occupation’s position vis-à-vis other professions and occupations as much as on the individual’s position in the occupation ( Hughes, 1958 and Hughes, 1970). The members of an occupation thus seek out the tasks which carry the most prestige, and seek to delegate what they see as the “dirty work” in order to give their occupation a more respectable image (Hughes, 1951a). Dirty work does not mean the tasks people try to avoid, delegate or hide simply because they are too ‘humble’, routine and mundane to be considered relevant and interesting; dirty work is the tasks considered demeaning and shameful because they contradict what the occupation normatively defines as its pride and virtue, and therefore threaten to shatter the fragile image the occupation puts forward for itself and its members. This conceptualisation of a moral division of labour reintroduces the symbolic aspects of work and the fragile nature of identity work within the study of organisational practices. Identifying the antecedents and consequences of what is considered dirty work – i.e., studying what individuals hide and despise in their daily activity – casts light on the links between identity work and organisational practices. This approach, which can be called a “negative ontology”, improves our knowledge of organisational practices by complementing the studies of organisational roles that focus on their positive aspects as defined through occupations’ rhetoric about what makes their members proud of their influence and useful contribution to society. The existing literature on management accountants’ practices adopts a positive ontology, focusing on what is expected and aspired to, in other words what makes the occupation appealing and rewarding. This is consistent with the notion that accountants are influential enough to delegate any undesirable tasks to less powerful individuals in their organisation. Yet our analysis shows that alongside activities that confer a sense of self-worth, management accountants’ work also includes a whole range of duties they find demeaning and seek to delegate, reduce, or hide: the “dirty work” (Hughes, 1951a) discussed above. The ethnographic case study presented in this article observes management accountants who feel unable to become ‘fully’ business-oriented, which creates tensions in their self-identity narratives. Drawing on a negative ontology, we study how those management accountants consider some of their tasks incompatible with their aspired-for role, and how they handle this dirty work in the struggle to achieve recognition and secure a more positive identity. The case illustrates that management accountants occupying a bookkeeper role may consider their situation as a personal failure that undermines their sense of self and professional achievement, leading them to define bookkeeping as inconsistent with their aspired-for identity and hence as basically a source of dirty work. More precisely, several individual trajectories and self-positionings emerge from the case, based on differing views of what the management accountants’ identity is and should be. This paper thus aims to understand why individuals define some tasks as rewarding and others as demeaning. Studying the moral division of labour clarifies why organisational members designate some tasks as dirty work and how they cope with what they see as misrecognition, relating these processes to issues of identity, occupational status and symbolic distinctions. Individuals engage in identity work both positively and negatively, i.e., by positioning themselves not only within one narrative but also in opposition to other narratives. An important contribution of this paper is to show that identity work relates to situated definitions of dirty work. We refine Everett Hughes’ (1951a) concept of dirty work by introducing a distinction between “unclean work” and “polluted work”. When people have to perform tasks they consider to be incompatible with the identity they claim, they see those “unclean tasks” as symbols of their misrecognition; yet, they also engage in activities that are theoretically consistent with the role pursued, or that should even be perceived as prestigious, but which can become demeaning in specific situations as audiences reposition them within practices reinforcing a devalued identity – we call these “polluted tasks”. We thus show that trying to comply with a positively-anticipated role transition can help avoiding unclean work yet generate more polluted work, and hence threaten management accountants’ identity narratives. The remainder of the paper is structured as follows. First, we draw on Everett Hughes’ concept of dirty work to build our conceptual framework. We then present the background to our case and the research methodology. The case study is split into two parts. In the first part, we set out to define the collective identity of management accountants at TechCo.2 To this end, we bring to light their viewpoints and the way they are perceived and pigeonholed by their audiences. In the second part, we focus on the self-positioning of one particular management accountant. By contrasting his practice with those of other accountants at TechCo, we outline divergences in their situational perspectives and relate them to alternative identification trajectories. The discussion of our findings shows how a negative ontology can advance understanding of the links between accounting, organisational practices and identification trajectories.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
It has been argued that management accountants are increasingly adopting business-oriented roles, taking part in daily operational decision-making processes (Ahrens and Chapman, 2002 and Granlund and Lukka, 1998a) and undertaking strategic interventions (Ahrens, 1997). This paper contributes to the literature on the transformation of management accountants’ roles by highlighting the tensions it can create. Most of the literature on management accountants’ roles tacitly suggests that the shift to business orientation is a positive development. While many management accountants clearly are, or wish to be, business-oriented, we show that their willingness to comply with such normative pressures can generate tensions in their identity narratives when they fail to match other organisational members’ expectations. These tensions can make interaction with managers more painful than rewarding. In such a situation, management accountants seek to develop alternative roles to position themselves in a more positive identification trajectory. The management accountants at TechCo re-orient their self-identity, not only by seeking a particularly gratifying position, but also by designating and managing the jobs that make up their dirty work. Interestingly, most of TechCo’s management accountants share the view that dirty work is not simply a matter of performing boring but necessary tasks, but also pertains to self-identity issues. In a context that makes them feel misrecognised, the point of avoiding number-crunching tasks is not so much to reduce their volume of mundane work as to distance themselves from the devalued “beancounter” image (Friedman and Lyne, 1997 and Friedman and Lyne, 2001). Dirty work is not just about performing routine tasks; it is about performing tasks that could, because of their association with a devalued identity, weaken efforts to construct a more valuable (self-)identity and present management accountants as ‘true business partners’. Dirty work is not just ‘humble’ work, it is demeaning, because it contradicts what the occupation normatively defines as its pride and virtue, and thus threatens to shatter the image the occupation puts forward for itself and its members. Detailed observation of daily practices is of great benefit here. As this paper shows, even the activities most closely associated with a prestigious role can sometimes produce dirty work and come to be considered demeaning. For instance, the amount of time management accountants spend interacting with managers – which is theoretically consistent with a business orientation – gives no indication of the role they play during these encounters. This finding leads us to refine Everett Hughes’ (1951a) concept of dirty work by introducing a distinction between “unclean work” and “polluted work”. Unclean work is incompatible with the desired role; polluted work is consistent with the desired role but becomes “dirty” when an audience associates it with a devalued identity. Symbolic separations between the clean, unclean and polluted are situated. It is because TechCo’s management accountants feel misrecognised that restating errors and correcting mistakes are not merely considered “boring tasks that are part of the job”, but as unclean work. In a more favourable context, participation in board meetings would certainly be associated with the prestigious dimension of the job, but at TechCo it becomes polluted. More generally, the definition of dirty work and its manifestations depend on how the moral division of labour is materialised in a specific context. Highlighting the dynamics between “unclean” and “polluted” work brings out a link between dirty work definitions and identity work. At TechCo, most management accountants are influenced by the business orientation discourse, but in practice interactions with managers are more stigmatising than enhancing. Although the business orientation helps to avoid unclean work, it generates more polluted work. These negative effects of a positively-anticipated role transition are a threat to management accountants’ identity narratives. Feeling that they are being treated as “dirty workers”, they engage in identity work to relieve the tensions this creates in their self-identity. Management accountants’ struggle for recognition can influence accounting and organisational practices. Accountants can focus on data that is accessible without generating too much dirty work. Whenever long restatements are required, or if reporting entails manipulations that are difficult to justify, they can make some numbers disappear and select those they consider explainable. To avoid awkward explanations, management accountants just sweep the “unclean” numbers under the carpet. We called this transforming dirty work into “dust”.6 Yet important issues may lurk behind unclean numbers, and managers may lose sight of significant phenomena. IT bugs and organisational failures might be overlooked because accountants have decided to make the corresponding numbers disappear. Used in this way, accounting focuses on, and draws attention to, not organisational failings but whatever the accountants feel reflects best on them. This jeopardises and potentially even subverts the bookkeeping orientation as the desire to focus on business-oriented tasks leads accountants to neglect their role as gatekeepers. The question has been raised as to whether accountants care about whether or not the numbers they produce are related to any underlying “truth” (Macintosh, 2009). However, Mouritsen (2011) has argued that, although the notions of truth and correspondence are problematic, accountants try to link accounting representations to a social world and build on such “likeness” to intervene in the world. Lambert and Pezet (2011) also found that business-oriented management accountants try to convince themselves and others that they are the producers of truthful knowledge – a claim that is constitutive of their identity. Our case study contributes to this debate. One extreme illustration is provided in our case when an accountant helps operating officers to hide their system bypassing procedures by reporting them in a specific, invisible accounting entry. This ensures that the accounting narrative stands (no variance appears in the accounts) and that the accountants do not have to get their hands dirty (the bypassing is done by line officers, not by accountants), clearly demonstrating the accountant’s indifference as to whether or not the accounting numbers tell any “truth”. Unlike their counterparts described by Macintosh (2009), the accountants in our case do not define truth either as representational faithfulness or strict compliance with rules and procedures, but by reference to their capacity to analyse and give meaning to the numbers. They tend to present as true whatever they can make sense of, and keep any other information invisible. This narrative is not only about the organisation’s wealth, but also about the accountants’ (self-)identity. This narrative helps to preserve the image of accountants as trying to tell a truth about the organisation. However, it is not a purely individual phenomenon: it is linked to the performance of wider roles and identities. Assessing the value of information is one way of gaining autonomy; in a situation where accountants feel subjected to the operational managers’ every whim, exercising judgment – differentiating between a variance to be explained by managers, an error that needs restating, and something that is merely a speck of dust – is one way to reclaim control over their own work. It is also an opportunity to foster cohesion within the group as collective participation in efforts to deal with dirty work is a sign of solidarity between members of the group. This case study thus highlights the fragile nature of accountants’ identity work and describes a variety of orientations and identifications advocated by management accountants. The paper illustrates that accountants rely not solely on outside expectations, but also on their own skills, feelings and tastes to position themselves within alternative narratives and build more positive self-identities. Specifically, we document how issues related to dirty work identification and management illustrate the wide range of management accountants’ values and interests, as well as their willingness to maintain a consistent façade. Hidden aspects of practice are brought to light to reveal the heterogeneous factors and trends that make up occupational identity – factors that are usually merged to achieve a consistent picture of the cases studied. We argue that rather than assuming homogeneity and stability within a profession or occupation, there is a promising avenue of research to be explored in studying how some members succeed in creating an image of homogeneity – a fragile, shifting compromise that allows them to define a legitimate overall picture of their profession – and thereby gain dominance (see also Becker, 1977 and Bucher and Strauss, 1961). Finally, our findings contribute to the study of the links between identity work, accounting and organisational practices. We show that organisational members use accounting to create façades to conceal any discrediting information concerning what they consider as dirty work but are not always able to delegate. Managers use accounting to mask events they do not want to be accountable for, delegating most accounting-related tasks and presenting accounting metrics as aberrations, in order to escape accountability pressures. This enables them to avoid what they consider as dirty work. Management accountants, in contrast, have little control over the content of their work. Being unable to delegate dirty work, they seek to make it invisible or at least less visible. Organisational members thus use accounting to keep certain information in the shadows, out of sight. We therefore invite analysts of management accounting practices – and of work organisations more generally – to pay greater attention to the most “humble”, or even shameful, aspects of organisational activities. More specifically, our analysis suggests that studying what individuals hide, despise or refuse to do can improve our understanding of accounting, identity work and organisational practices.