This paper examines micro-practices of resistance to understand how they influence accounting.
A qualitative methodology based on interviews is used to explore an extreme case of disciplinary organization, that of the French Armed Forces whereby secrecy and discipline are the norm. The study draws on James Scott's concept of infrapolitics to illustrate how service members manage to appear obedient and disciplined, while simultaneously criticizing and resisting accounting practices “below the radar” of surveillance.
The study describes “resistance in obedience” to account for how service members resist while following discipline. Three main forms of resistance are identified. Containment consists in obstructing and delaying a process of change that depends on willing participation of active supporters. Subversion consists in weakening the sources of information and the communication channels. Sabotage consists in fragmenting accounting (here a balanced scorecard) by separating performance indicators from cost accounting. The study shows that these three tactics of hidden and informal resistances prevent the spread of accounting reforms, disrupt transparency and create a blockade around financial information.
The study of resistance to accounting in a setting where compliance and discipline are the norm shows how widespread it can be. In that respect, future research could provide a more systematic understanding of resistance in action and its conditions of possibility in various contexts and settings. This article further illustrates the allure of opacity against the threats of transparency and accountability. The use of accounting in opaque settings opens interesting avenues of research, since the appeal of accounting has often been related to the allure of transparency and to accounting's potential to create visibilities. Finally, this paper opens a perspective for future research on how micro-resistance meets micro-practices of power in the context of ostensibly liberated, participative and non-authoritarian management.
While previous literature argued that resistance to accounting arises when it is used to increase discipline, our findings challenge this assumed dichotomy, by showing that sometimes accounting is resisted in the name of discipline. This study further outlines the fact that the “allure” of transparency is not universal but can also prove disruptive and be contested. In addition, this study contributes to the literature on resistance to accounting that mainly focused on overt, dramatic and organized forms of resistances, by highlighting the existence of a more widespread, omnipresent yet hidden and mundane, day-to-day, form of opposition, which significantly influences accounting. Finally, the findings show that resistance is not only an outside force intersecting with accounting but also an intrinsic force that shapes accounting from the inside.
We are grateful to the editor and both anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on our paper. This paper also benefited from the comments by participants at the ENROAC Conference, Naples, June 2017, EIASM Conference, Nice, September 2017, MASOP Conference, Copenhagen, April 2018, Alternative Accounts, Montréal, July 2018, HEC Montréal Seminar Series, May 2019, and Aston Seminar Series, June 2019. We are particularly grateful to Afshin Mehrpouya, Paolo Quattrone and the members of OCE Research Center (Emlyon business school) for their helpful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this paper.
Perray-Redslob, L. and Morales, J. (2023), "Resisting accounting in the name of discipline", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 36 No. 1, pp. 378-402. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-01-2021-5092
Emerald Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited