The anatomy of tragedy: Starbucks as a politics of displacement

David B. Carter, Rebecca Warren, Anne Steinhoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: This paper examines the 2012–2013 Starbucks tax crisis in the United Kingdom (UK) as an anatomy of tragedy. The tragedy in relation to Starbucks is the displacement of an opportunity to examine the relationship between financial capital and national capitalisms. The paper illustrates how the crisis displaced opportunities for substantive critique concerning financial capital, national capitalisms, multinationals, taxation and society. Design/methodology/approach: As a critical, discursive intervention, the paper examines how rhetoric was employed in 157 media articles published in six UK newspapers and on two news portals (both in print and online). The paper employs rhetorical redescription to the document archive, presenting the finding and analysis as a play in the style of an Aristotelian tragedy. Findings: Analysis of the Starbucks approach to transfer pricing identifies misunderstandings of accounting, taxation transfer pricing, and ‘‘resolution” and how the media's construction of Starbucks as immoral, anti-British, potentially illegal operated to confuse the politics. The effect of these misunderstandings and confusion was to take attention away from a politics concerning financial capital valorisation and national capitalisms (jurisdictions raising tax revenue for government spending and social services). Originality/value: First, the paper explores the politics of displacement to illustrate the metonymic concealment of the primary identity of the political. Second, Aristotelian tragedy is employed to study and present methods of displacement. Third, the empirics are depicted in a dramatic format to illustrate how rhetorical interventions by the media and actors displaced the political focus away from financial capital and national capitalisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-176
Number of pages31
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2023


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