Theoretical perspectives on accounting for labor on slave plantations of the USA and British West Indies

Thomas N. Tyson (Department of Accounting, St John Fisher College, Rochester, New York, USA)
Richard K. Fleischman (Department of Accountancy, John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio, USA)
David Oldroyd (University of Newcastle Business School, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Publication date: 1 December 2004


The paper focuses on accounting for slave workers during one of the most morally culpable periods in Western civilization and is concerned with issues central to labor – modes of production, labor control, and labor productivity. It incorporates secondary sources and examination of records from over 150 different US and BWI plantations to identify contextual factors that motivated planters to organize their workforce in a particular way. The paper specifically describes the ganging and tasking methods of extracting surplus value and indicates how these methods fit within three common paradigmatic interpretations of accounting history – labor process, power/knowledge/discipline, and economic rationalism. In summary, ganging exemplified a pre‐modern approach to organizing labor in which planters relied primarily on physical power to compel work effort and increase output. Tasking incorporated individual work rates and included more sophisticated practices of surveillance, measurement, normalization, and socialization. Tasking became economically rational by responding to changing market conditions and by incorporating procedures and incentives to spur greater productivity. Therefore, tasking may be perceived as a thematic precursor to accounting‐based disciplinary controls like standard costing and a transitionary element from pre‐modern to modern control systems.



Tyson, T., Fleischman, R. and Oldroyd, D. (2004), "Theoretical perspectives on accounting for labor on slave plantations of the USA and British West Indies", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 17 No. 5, pp. 758-778.

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