The ‘performativity thesis’ and its critics: towards a relational ontology of management accounting

E.G.J. Vosselman

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

This paper explores accounting's mediating role in bringing theoretical statements from economics into life. It addresses the so-called performativity thesis that claims that economic theory does not just observe and explain a reality, but rather shapes, formats and performs reality. Accounting mediates in that process by creating cognitive boundaries that embed societal practices in economic theory. However, the performativity thesis is not without criticisms. Its main criticisms concern a lack of proof of the thesis; an overestimation of the power of economics to extend beyond the virtual; and a lack of a critical stance. In order to bring more nuance in the discussion on the performativity thesis the paper reflects on evidence from the field of accounting. The review of accounting studies reveals how accounting, to different degrees, is implicated in strategic and operational activities in markets and organisations and how it is a performative mechanism of economisation. Moreover, in order to accentuate the good in society and to challenge the bad, the paper suggests a further development of (critical) management accounting research into the performativity of both economics and other social theories. A relational ontology of management accounting that is in politics and that is sensitive to unlocalisable virtual powers of social-historical formations of management accounting may be developed. © 2013 Taylor & Francis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-203
JournalAccounting and Business Research
Volume44
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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