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A car wash: post-truth politics, Petrobras and ethics of the real

Barbara d.L. Voss (Canberra Business School, Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia)
David B. Carter (Canberra Business School, Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australia)
Rebecca Warren (Essex Business School, University of Essex, Colchester, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 26 May 2022

Issue publication date: 27 March 2023




The study draws upon three accounts to examine post-truth politics and its link to accounting. In studying Petrobras, a Brazilian petrochemical company embroiled in a corruption scandal, the authors draw upon a politics of falsity to understand how different depictions of similar events can emerge. The authors depict Petrobras' corporate social responsibility (CSR) disclosures during the period of corruption juxtaposed against the Brazilian Federal Police investigation (the Lava Jato/Car Wash Operation) and Petrobras' response to the allegations of institutional corruption.


The data set consisted of 56 Petrobras reports including Annual Reports, Financial Statements, Sustainability Reports and Form 20-Fs from 2004 to 2017, information disclosed by the Brazilian Federal Police concerning the Lava Jato Operation and media reports concerning Petrobras and the corruption scandal. The paper employs a discourse analysis approach to depict and interpret the accounts.


Through examining the connection between ontic accounts and ontological presuppositions, the authors illustrate a post-truth logic underpinning accounting, due to the interpretive, contestable and contingent nature of accounting information. Consequently, the authors turn to the “ethics of the real” as a response, as citizen subjects must be cautious in how they approach accounting and CSR disclosures.


Rather than relying on simplistic true/false dualities, the authors argue that the “ethics of the real” provides a courageous position for citizen subjects to interrogate the organisation by recognising the role of discourse and disclosure expectations on organisations in a post-truth environment. The study also illustrates how competing, contingent accounts of the same timeframe and events can emerge.



The authors thank the participants at the 2019 Qualitative Research and Critical Accounting Conference in Bogota, Colombia. The authors wish to thank Javier Husillos and Yves Gendron for their helpful comments, the editorial office of the AAAJ including Prof. Parker and Rainbow Shum for their excellent and professional assistance and the three reviewers for their observations, suggestions and comments that contributed to this enhanced version of the paper.


Voss, B.d.L., Carter, D.B. and Warren, R. (2023), "A car wash: post-truth politics, Petrobras and ethics of the real", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 36 No. 2, pp. 437-463.



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