Accounting without accounting: Informational proxies and the construction of organisational discourses

Fábio Frezatti, David CARTER, Marcelo Barroso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: An effective management accounting information system (MAIS), as well as the accounting discourse related to it, can support, facilitate, enable, and constrain diverse business discourses. This paper aims to examine the discursive and organisational effects of an organisation accounting upon absent accounting artefacts, i.e. accounting without accounting. Situated within the discursive literature, this paper examines the construction of competing articulations of the organisation by focusing on what accounting does or does not do within an organisation. In particular, the paper acknowledges the fundamental importance of the accounting discourse in supporting, facilitating, enabling, and constraining competing organisational discourses, as it illustrates how the absence of accounting centralises power within the organisation. Design/methodology/approach: From a rhetorical, discursive perspective, the authors develop an in-depth qualitative case study in a manufacturing organisation where MAIS has been abandoned for approximately two years. Interpretive research approaches, from a post-structural perspective, provided the base for the structure of the research. The authors studied how other organisational discourses (such as entrepreneurship and growth), which are traditionally constructed with reference to accounting and other artefacts, continued to be produced and sustained. The non-use and non-availability of management accounting information created a vacuum that needed to be filled. The lack of discursive counterpoints and counter-evidence provided by MAIS created a vacuum of information, allowing powerful, proxy discourses to prevail in the organisation, increasing risks to business management. Findings: The absence of MAIS to support an accounting discourse requires that contingent discourses "fill in the discursive gap". Despite appearances, they are no substitute for the accounting discourse. Thus, over time, the entrepreneurial, growth and partners' discourses lose credibility, without the corresponding use of management accounting information and its associated discourse. Originality/value: There are at least two main contributions from the case study and the findings presented in this paper: first, they provide a new perspective for studying MAIS, as a specific organisational discourse among other discourses that shape people relationship within the organisation as an examination of accounting without accounting. Second, this discussion reinforces the relevance of accounting discourse for other organisational discourses, supporting, facilitating, enabling, and constraining them, by demonstrating the effects of its absence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)426-464
Number of pages39
JournalAccounting Auditing and Accountability
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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