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Activism, arenas and accounts in conflicts over tobacco control

Ian Thomson (School of Management & Languages , Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK)
Colin Dey (University of Stirling, Stirling, UK)
Shona Russell (Department of Management, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 15 June 2015




The purpose of this paper is to provide theoretical and empirical insights into the effective use of external accounts by social activists in conflict arenas in order to bring about change.


This paper presents a longitudinal case study of Action on Smoking and Health UK (ASH) and their use of external accounts and other activist practices during the period 1999-2010. The authors explore these practices from the perspective of one organisation engaged in conflict arenas concerning the (un)acceptability of tobacco production, consumption and governance. The authors conduct the exploration based upon a dynamic conflict arena framework that attends to the range of external accounting and activist practices, tactical intentions and states of conflict used by ASH to confront the tobacco industry and bring about change in tobacco governance.


The study identifies the use of a diverse range of external accounts and other activist practices. This assemblage of practices was used to confront, counter-act and to co-operate with actors engaged in tobacco-related conflicts. The evidence suggests that the deployment of different types of external accounts by ASH was aligned to the context of the particular conflict arena involved, and was influenced by the strategy and engagement tactics of the activists and other actors, as well as power dynamics and acceptability of the tobacco governance in the conflict arena. Whilst ASH used different external accounts in specific episodes of activism, these individual accounts also contributed to an emerging holistic account of the unacceptable consequences of tobacco production, consumption and governance.


This study provides new theoretical and empirical insights into how external accounts can contribute to the problematisation of governance and development of social and environmental change agendas. The dynamic conflict arena framework developed in this paper creates new visibilities and possibilities for developing external accounting practices and for researching this fast-developing area of social and environmental accounting.



Thomson, I., Dey, C. and Russell, S. (2015), "Activism, arenas and accounts in conflicts over tobacco control", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 28 No. 5, pp. 809-845.



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