Lost in translation
Institutionalised logic and the
problematisation of accounting for injury
Faculty of Business and Economics, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
Geoff McDonald & Associates Pty Ltd., Crestmead, Queensland,
Craig Michael Deegan
School of Accounting, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to seek to extend the work of Robson (1991, 1992) by exploring
the accounting implications of the way in which subsets of non-financial accounting numbers are
constructed. In particular, the study investigates whether the different procedures for organising
subsets of a set of accounting data may lead to different conclusions about (the same) reality.
Design/methodology/approach – The empirical analysis focuses on the procedures by which
organisations translate work-related injury outcomes to accounting numbers. First, existing procedures
are problematised within their institutional context. This highlights complementary elements of
translation and neo-institutional theory that together explain how institutional factors might operate to
constrain the problematising process. An empirical analysis of workers’ compensation data covering a
ten year period is then conducted to calculate and contrast performance using two competing logics of
accounting for injury.
Findings – The findings demonstrate that different representations of reality may result not only
from accounting choices as to “what” is measured, but also from accounting choices as to “how subsets
of measured data are organised”. Specifically, different ways of organising injury data into subsets led
to different representations of the reality of overall injury performance. The evidence further suggests
taken-for-granted assumptions and institutionalised practices may prevent adequate problematisation
of the underpinning logic that guides the procedures for organising translations of work-related injury
and illness to accounting numbers.
Practical implications – The results suggest the existing logic of accounting for injury fails
to recognise the financial or non-financial complexity of non-fatal injury outcomes. “Lost time injury”
measures are revealed as neither valid nor reliable measures of injury (or safety) and therefore
inappropriate for informing the occupational health and safety (OHS) decisions of managers, boards
and external stakeholders. These findings reveal an urgent need for change in injury accounting
practice and, in turn, raise serious concerns about the increasingly institutionalised global template for
external disclosure of OHS performance information.
Originality/value – This paper takes a novel look at the construction of social performance measures
and suggests further attention to the construction of accounting subsets is warranted. In demonstrating
serious problems in accounting logic that underpin existing, and deeply institutionalised, measurement
and reporting practices, the findings reinforce the need to routinely re-problematise accounting practices.
Failure to critically review those accounting translations that underpin decision-making may prove a
The role of management
accounting and control
in making professional
Department of Service Management, Lund University,
Lund, Sweden and
School of Public Administration, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg,
Karlstad Business School, Karlstad University,
Karlstad, Sweden and
School of Business, Economics and IT, University West, Trollhättan, Sweden
Purpose – In the last decade, greater attention has been paid to the role of management accounting
and control (MAC) in making professional organizations more horizontal. The authors argue that
earlier research has not shown how the interrelatedness between professional identities and MAC
influences attempts to make organizations more horizontal. In this paper the authors respond to
the call for more research on the relationship between horizontalization and accounting and control.
The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the emerging literature on the relationship between
accountability arrangements and professional identities.
Design/methodology/approach – Theoretically the authors have an actor-network theory (ANT)
approach. Empirically, the authors followed two episodes where actors at top management levels in
two Swedish health care organizations introduced horizontalization.
Findings – The two episodes support the view that the role of MAC when making professional
organizations more horizontal is limited. Professionals dominate what happens at the operational level
and they do not act on MAC rules and performance targets in opposition of their professional identity.
However, in alliance with other interessement devices MAC may have a role in creating overflows, that
is, pointing out imperfections in the existing frame. The authors noticed no signs that professionals
developed hybrid identities as in previous research.
Originality/value – The authors apply ANT to move beyond the commonly used contingency and
new institutional sociology perspectives.
Keywords Professional identity, Healthcare, Actor-network theory,
Horizontal organization, Management accounting and control
Paper type Research paper
Newcastle City Council and the
grassroots: accountability and
budgeting under austerity
United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, and
Newcastle University, Newcastle, UK
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to shed light on new accountability relationships between
Newcastle City Council (NCC) and its citizens and stakeholders in the wake of the British government’s
austerity politics and its budget cuts for local authorities. It seeks to show some of the ways in which
various kinds of budgeting, for example, for alternative sources of funding, the use of volunteers for
service provision, resource sharing, and asset transfers, as well as a diverse set of accounts of the social
implications of resource diversions and service cuts, have been implicated in those changes.
Design/methodology/approach – The authors conducted a qualitative field study of some of the
uses of budgets in the shaping of accountability relationships through interviews with council officers,
conversations with activists and citizens, analysis of council and other documents, and observation of
public meetings and demonstrations. The approach focused on the relationship between the city’s
political grassroots and the NCC leadership and administration.
Findings – The authors find that NCC’s senior politicians and officers co-opted the city’s political
grassroots and managed to reconstitute local political accountability to citizenry and stakeholders as a
choice between the cessation of different types of local government services, by combining appeals to
the legal framework of English local authorities, the unfairness of national politics, and the fairness of
local government service provision. Local government blamed the funding cuts and the resulting
resource shortages on the central government. It sought to push responsibility for cuts to the local
citizenry whilst reserving for itself the role of mediator and adjudicator who makes the final decisions
about the portfolio of causes that will be funded.
Originality/value – This is the first study to offer detailed insight into the effects of the British
government’s austerity budget cuts of local authority grants on the politics of accountability in a local
Keywords Accountability, Austerity, Localism, Budgeting, Local government, Grassroots politics
Paper type Research paper
Constraining and facilitating
management control in times
Case studies in four municipal departments
Berend van der Kolk, Henk J. ter Bogt and Paula M.G. van Veen-Dirks
Department of Accounting, University of Groningen,
Groningen, The Netherlands
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine how management control (MC) within governmental
departments is used in times of austerity, and how insights from agency and stewardship theory can
enhance the understanding of this issue.
Design/methodology/approach – The authors distinguish two types of MC (constraining and
facilitating) based on their different assumptions regarding human behavior (agent-like and stewardlike).
The authors empirically analyze changes in the use of these types of MC in four cases located in
two municipalities. The collected data consists of 51 semi-structured interviews, desk research and
multiple field observations.
Findings – The authors find that MC at the departmental level becomes more constraining in times of
austerity. The authors suggest that an overemphasis on constraining MC has negative consequences.
It can, for instance, evoke agent-like, opportunistic behavior while it disregards potential steward-like
behavior. These negative consequences are less prevalent when there is a simultaneous increase in
emphasis on the use of facilitating MC elements.
Originality/value – The authors acknowledge “human ambivalence,” i.e. an employee’s recurring
choice between agent-like and steward-like behavior, and illustrate the dangers of overly relying on
constraining types of MC. The authors also contemplate alternative strategic managerial responses to
austerity in a public sector context.
Keywords NPM, Austerity, Stewardship, Management control, Constraining, Facilitating
Paper type Research paper
Professional service firms,
globalisation and the
School of Management, University of Bath, Bath, UK
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to draw critical accounting research to ground the study of
globalising of professional service firms (GPSFs) more firmly in the history and actuality of
imperialism. In so doing, the paper also helps in forging a stronger connection between accounting
scholarship and interdisciplinary GPSF-focused debates in the wider field of management and
organisation studies (MOS).
Design/methodology/approach – This is a desk-based study, analysing the globalisation of
professional service firms through the lens of imperialism via an exploration of relevant research on the
Findings – The analysis sheds light on the link between GPSFs and contemporary imperialism.
In particular, it shows how the organisation of GPSFs (re)produces core-periphery relations in the
modern world economy and how this is facilitated and reinforced by universalisation efforts on
the part of the firms’ core offices. The paper also highlights the role of local professionals in both
enabling and resisting GPSF domination.
Research limitations/implications – One main implication of this paper is that the organisational
nature and societal impact of GPSFs (and the professions more generally) are further illuminated. The
paper deepens understanding of GPSFs’ role in (re)producing global inequalities and colonial-style
power relations in a supposedly post-imperial world and calls for a reconceptualisation of these firms
as agents of imperialism. In so doing, the paper also opens new avenues for future research on the
organisation of GPSFs and on their impact on societies worldwide.
Originality/value – This is the first attempt to draw together critical accounting studies of
globalisation with research GPSFs in the generalist field of MOS. In so doing, it contributes to
a cross-fertilisation of the two fields and helps in making the former more central to ongoing debates
in the latter. The paper also contributes to the emerging body of post-colonial theorising in MOS
by shedding light on the crucial role of professional service firms in (re)producing imperialism in the
modern world economy.
Keywords Accounting firms, Globalisation, Imperialism, Professional service firms,
Paper type Research paper