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Three essays on silences in management accounting, An exploratory research into power, talk and knowledge in management accounting in light of the exercise of silence

Abstract : Behind every story told about performance, and profitability, through accounting and control practices, there is the untold story, the alternative tale that will not be heard. Management accounting practices are instrumental in centralizing and circulating critical information; yet the possibility of creating silence through accounting has only been partially treated (Brown, J., Dillard, J. & Hopper, T., 2015; Bracci, Humphrey, Moll, Steccholini, 2015). This dissertation aims at showing that, on par with transparency, management accounting also produces silence and can work around silence. Management accounting is an invitation to “tell” that coexists with the politics of organizational life. Organizational politics may entail a form of silence from decision makers. Management accounting may be an integral part of this political work, at all level of the organization, and thus an important tool in the creation and maintenance of silence. In the production, consumption, analysis and continuous crafting of management accounting numbers, organizational actors can choose, or be forced to organize out sensitive or complex information. Every time management accounting information is considered difficult to read, or understand, difficult to share, or communicate with, unsatisfactory or even meaningless, it may be infused with a form of silence. A silence that is not limited to intersubjectivity, to elementary conversational rules, but that carries messages and strategies that consciously or not change organizational reality. This research explores the exercise of silence as an essential part of the functioning of control systems. Management accounting practices contribute to the construction of reality notably in gearing motivation for actions, conveying norms of conduct, and engaging users. Silence is a form of government that we suggest can be essential to the practice of control and can be exercised through both authoritarian power and through the suggestive force of management accounting devices. Every form of expression, be it interactions or devices, creates meaning but also excludes meaning, invites silences and participes to constructing the realm of the unsayable. This dissertation considers silencing through dynamics of exclusions, from language, from spaces of communication, from knowledge. This exclusion can be played by multiple actors in organizations striving to safeguard a diversity of fields of power, of expertise or knowledge. This dissertation interrogates how can management accounting practices create, maintain or break silences in organizations? In order to answer this research question, I use a qualitative inductive methodology whereby “The qualitative field researcher seeks to articulate organisational members’ theories-in-practice and their motivations as well as the ways in which they relate to observed activities in the field.” (Chapman, Hopwood, Shields, 2006, p.304). Six-months of field work were conducted in a public organization with a social mission. This dissertation is composed of three research papers. The first paper interrogates the use of silence to secure and sustain control. The second paper investigates the limits of the use of management accounting to encourage expression and discussions. The third paper studies silence as resistance to surveillance. This dissertation overall contemplates the possibilities offered by the study of silence to enrich our understanding of talk, knowledge and power struggles in and through management accounting. In doing so, it proposes contributions to the literature on control, on accounting talk, on power and resistance.
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https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-03123845
Contributor : Caecilia Drujon d'Astros <>
Submitted on : Thursday, January 28, 2021 - 11:17:45 AM
Last modification on : Saturday, January 30, 2021 - 3:25:12 AM

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Caecilia Drujon d'Astros. Three essays on silences in management accounting, An exploratory research into power, talk and knowledge in management accounting in light of the exercise of silence. Business administration. ESSEC Business School; Cergy Paris Université, 2020. English. ⟨tel-03123845⟩

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