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Accounting for madness: the “Real Casa dei Matti” of Palermo 1824-1860

Warwick Funnell (Kent Business School, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK)
Valerio Antonelli (Department of Management and Innovation Systems, University of Salerno, Salerno, Italy)
Raffaele D’Alessio (Department of Management and Innovation Systems, University of Salerno, Salerno, Italy)
Roberto Rossi (Department of Economics and Statistics, University of Salerno, Salerno, Italy)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 19 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to understand the role played by accounting in managing an early nineteenth century lunatic asylum in Palermo, Italy.


The paper is informed by Foucault’s studies of lunatic asylums and his work on governmentality which gave prominence to the role of statistics, the “science of the State”.


This paper identifies a number of roles played by accounting in the management of the lunatic asylum studied. Most importantly, information which formed the basis of accounting reports was used to describe, classify and give visibility and measurability to the “deviance” of the insane. It also legitimated the role played by lunatic asylums, as entrusted to them in post-Napoleonic early nineteenth century society, and was a tool to mediate with the public authorities to provide adequate resources for the institution to operate.

Research limitations/implications

This paper encourages accounting scholars to engage more widely with socio-historical research that will encompass organisations such as lunatic asylums.


This paper provides, for the first time, a case of accounting applied to a lunatic asylum from a socio-historical perspective.



Funnell, W., Antonelli, V., D’Alessio, R. and Rossi, R. (2017), "Accounting for madness: the “Real Casa dei Matti” of Palermo 1824-1860", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 30 No. 5, pp. 1111-1141.



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