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Problematizing profit and profitability: discussions

Alan Lowe (School of Accounting, Information Systems and Supply Chain, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
Yesh Nama (School of Accounting, Information Systems and Supply Chain, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
Alice Bryer (School of Economics, Finance and Management, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK)
Nihel Chabrak (College of Business and Economics, United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates)
Claire Dambrin (ESCP Europe, Paris, France)
Ingrid Jeacle (Business School, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland)
Johnny Lind (Department of Accounting, Handelshogskolan i Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden)
Philippe Lorino (ESSEC Group, Paris, France)
Keith Robson (HEC Paris, Jouy en Josas, France)
Chiara Bottausci (School of Economics, Finance and Management, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK)
Crawford Spence (King's Business School, The University of Warwick, Coventry, UK)
Chris Carter (Business School, Edinburgh University, Edinburgh, UK)
Ekaterina Svetlova (School of Business, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 1 May 2020

Issue publication date: 15 May 2020




The purpose of this paper is to report the outcome of an interdisciplinary discussion on the concepts of profit and profitability and various ways in which we could potentially problematize these concepts. It is our hope that a much greater attention or reconsideration of the problematization of profit and related accounting numbers will be fostered in part by the exchanges we include here.


This paper adopts an interdisciplinary discussion approach and brings into conversation ideas and views of several scholars on problematizing profit and profitability in various contexts and explores potential implications of such problematization.


Profit and profitability measures make invisible the collective endeavour of people who work hard (backstage) to achieve a desired profit level for a division and/or an organization. Profit tends to preclude the social process of debate around contradictions among the ends and means of collective activity. An inherent message that we can discern from our contributors is the typical failure of managers to appreciate the value of critical theory and interpretive research for them. Practitioners and positivist researchers seem to be so influenced by neo-liberal economic ideas that organizations are distrusted and at times reviled in their attachment to profit.

Research limitations/implications

Problematizing opens-up the potential for interesting and significant theoretical insights. A much greater pragmatic and theoretical reconsideration of profit and profitability will be fostered by the exchanges we include here.


In setting out a future research agenda, this paper fosters theoretical and methodological pluralism in the research community focussing on problematizing profit and profitability in various settings. The discussion perspectives offered in this paper provides not only a basis for further research in this critical area of discourse and regulation on the role and status of profit and profitability but also emancipatory potential for practitioners (to be reflective of their practices and their undesired consequences of such practices) whose overarching focus is on these accounting numbers.



This paper forms part of a special section “Problematizing profit and profitability”, guest edited by Alan Lowe, Yesh Nama and Alexandru Preda. The authors wish to thank the Founding Joint Editors of AAAJ, James Guthrie and Less Parker, for their inspiration and support as we developed this Special Issue. We thank the many scholars who submitted papers in response to the call, and particularly thank the contributors of accepted papers published in this Special Issue for their commitment to making this project such a fulfilling and worthwhile endeavour. Appreciation is expressed to all those who graciously gave up their time to provide constructive, insightful and timely advice to both the contributors and us as reviewers for the Special Issue. Finally, we express our sincere gratitude to the anonymous reviewers assigned to this paper for their thoughtful comments and feedback.


Lowe, A., Nama, Y., Bryer, A., Chabrak, N., Dambrin, C., Jeacle, I., Lind, J., Lorino, P., Robson, K., Bottausci, C., Spence, C., Carter, C. and Svetlova, E. (2020), "Problematizing profit and profitability: discussions", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 1233 No. 4, pp. 753-793.



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