Metaphor in accounting

Even the sober accountants have not been spared by the metaphor wave that has sloshed through management studies since 1980. In an early article, Davis, Menon, and Morgan (1982) identified four “images that have shaped accounting theory” (title):

  • - Accounting as a historical record of economic transactions;
  • - Accounting as depicting the current economic reality;
  • - Accounting as an information system;
  • - Accounting seen as an economic commodity.

Each of these four images, according to the above scholars, offers only limited insight as “no one image can capture fully the essence of accounting” (p. 315). The accountants’ habit of representing reality through numbers, far from providing an objective picture of the organization, only yields “an outline devoid, for example, of the human and political dramas that also constitute the reality of organizational life” (p. 308). Morgan (1988) had already rehearsed this view of accounting as an activity of reality construction rather than an objective mirror of reality. Essentially the same point was made by Amernic and Craig (2009), who highlighted how the conceptual metaphor ‘accounting as an instrument’ or its instantiations ‘financial statements as a lens/a snapshot’ insidiously suggest that accounting is based on representational faithfulness. Robson (1992) went a step further by asking why accounting developed numerical metaphors and suggested “that use of numerical metaphor in accounting practice is related to the problem of achieving long-distance control” (p. 686). While these scholars are mostly interested in metaphors whose target domain is the activity of accounting, another strand of research investigates the persuasive use of metaphor in accounting documents directed at shareholders and stakeholders (e.g., Amernic, Craig, and Tourish 2007; Bujaki and McConomy 2012).

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