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To speak or not to speak the language of numbers: accounting as ventriloquism

Bertrand Fauré (GEA Tarbes, Université de Toulouse, Tarbes, France)
François Cooren (Department of Communication, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Canada)
Frédérik Matte (Ottawa University, Ottawa, Canada)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 15 January 2019

Issue publication date: 15 January 2019




The purpose of this paper is to extend the literature on accounting’s performativity by developing a ventriloquial perspective that directs the attention to the reciprocity between the accounting signs and the accountants: they both do things by making each other speak. This oscillation explains where accounting number’s authority, materiality and resistance come from.


In order to show the relevance of this approach, the authors examine various ways numbers manage to speak or do things in the context of video-recorded conversations taken from fieldwork completed with Médecins sans frontières (also known as Doctors without Borders) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The analyses show how this ventriloquial perspective can inform the way the authors interpret what happens: when numbers do not say the same thing; when numbers are competing with other figures; and when numbers backfire on their own promoters.

Research limitations/implications

Even if some of the numbers studied are sometimes far from accounting per se, it shows how the absence or presence of accounting can make a difference.

Practical implications

The authors then discuss the implications of this research for accounting social innovation through accounting inscriptions.

Social implications

This perspective helps to understand that numbers can give great power, but that everything cannot be told with numbers. This is why making numbers speak is a great talent.


This refreshing perspective on accounting could be extended to other fields such as auditing and auditing.



Fauré, B., Cooren, F. and Matte, F. (2019), "To speak or not to speak the language of numbers: accounting as ventriloquism", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 32 No. 1, pp. 337-361.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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