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Political arithmetick: accounting for irony in Swift’s A Modest Proposal

Robert Phiddian (School of English and Drama, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 1 December 1996


Written in 1729, Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay, A Modest Proposal remains a challenge to the logic of current accounting practices. By shining a harshly sceptical light on the languages and assumptions of “Political arithmetick” (then a novel intellectual discipline), Swift shows the capacity of this ancestor discourse of modern accounting to blind its users to the reality of the situation they face. Argues that accounting discourse should open itself to “undisciplined” interpretation so as to reduce the risk of being blind to important factors that fully “disciplined” professional activity cannot see. In particular, argues that: a hermeneutic model based on deconstrnctive theories of blindness and insight deserves to be imported into accountancy theory from literary theory; that accountants should attend to satirical modes of writing, such as Swift’s Proposal, so as to unsettle and test the assumptions that underpin their professional practice. Consequently, addresses both the history of accountancy and its present habits of interpretation.



Phiddian, R. (1996), "Political arithmetick: accounting for irony in Swift’s A Modest Proposal", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 9 No. 5, pp. 71-83.




Copyright © 1996, MCB UP Limited