Accounting for accumulation: A longitudinal field study
Accounting and Management Control
Speaker: Tommaso Palermo
HEC Campus - Build.T - Room 030
This paper examines the role of processes of accumulation in the context of how accounting operates in organisations. Through a longitudinal field study, the paper illustrates multiple accumulation processes that contribute to the uptake and stabilisation of a credit check control procedure, which is used in a large telecom company to address a concern with ‘bad debt’. A patchwork of inscriptions consolidates key assumptions underlying the functioning of credit check (accumulation as patchwork). Accounting and control technologies, organisational processes and informing practices gradually accrete, complementing and reinforcing the use of credit check (accumulation as accretion). The accumulation and absorption of digital traces about transactions with customers enable to test the functioning of credit check to further increase its perceived organisational legitimacy (accumulation as absorption). In addition, the analysis documents a fourth process, which shows how the generative properties of accumulation dynamics are contingent upon the erosion of certain objects of managerial concern (e.g. the customer, the sales agent, inefficient organisational processes) and/or accounting and control technologies that seek to address such objects of concern (accumulation as sedimentation). Drawing on these observations, the paper offers three contributions. First, while previous studies tend to focus on distinct processes of accumulation, this paper highlights how multiple processes can coexist, overlap and reinforce each other. Second, this paper adds nuance to the notion that processes of accumulation are additive and generative, showing how these generative and additive properties are contingent upon the erosion of certain elements, which allows the sedimentation of others. Third, the paper reveals the important role played by such ‘sediments’, which become preconditions for subsequent interventions. In so doing, the paper reveals how the much discussed imperfection of accounting can be addressed via endogenously emerging properties, rather than via interventions carried out by the designers or the users of accounting.