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Identity narratives under threat: A study of former members of Arthur Andersen


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  • Gendron, Yves
  • Spira, Laura F.
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    This paper examines the processes by which individuals work their sense of organizational and professional identity in the aftermath of a professional failure. Drawing on twenty-five interviews carried out with former members of Arthur Andersen who mostly worked for the firm in Canada and the United Kingdom, we investigate interviewees' identity work ensuing from the breakdown of the firm. Specifically, identity work comprises processes by which individuals reflectively seek to maintain or revise their sense of identification with the AA organization and also with the public accounting profession, along with developing self-understandings regarding causes and consequences ensuing from the firm's collapse. Our analysis indicates that four interpretive schemes or patterns mainly characterize interviewees' identity work: disillusion; resentfulness; rationalization; and hopefulness. Each of these patterns can be viewed as conveying a distinct representation of what "truly" happened within AA. In this sense, identity work, sense-making and truth contests are inextricably linked altogether. Moreover, the present paper underlines the pertinence of studying entangled processes of identity work and sense-making in order to better understand how broader social forces or discourses (e.g., commercialization and risk) are experienced and translated by the self in the context of identity-threatening events. That is, the identity work/sense-making nexus constitutes a relevant theoretical anchoring to study the circulation of discourses in society.

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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Accounting, Organizations and Society.

    Volume (Year): 35 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 3 (April)
    Pages: 275-300

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:aosoci:v:35:y:2010:i:3:p:275-300

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    1. Power, Michael K., 2003. "Auditing and the production of legitimacy," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 28(4), pages 379-394, May.
    2. Denis Harrisson, 2002. "Innovation, Identities and Resistance: The Social Construction of An Innovation Network," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 39(4), pages 497-521, 06.
    3. Mats Alvesson, 2002. "Identity Regulation as Organizational Control: Producing the Appropriate Individual," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 39(5), pages 619-644, 07.
    4. Robson, Keith & Humphrey, Christopher & Khalifa, Rihab & Jones, Julian, 2007. "Transforming audit technologies: Business risk audit methodologies and the audit field," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 32(4-5), pages 409-438.
    5. Ahrens, Thomas & Chapman, Christopher S., 2006. "Doing qualitative field research in management accounting: Positioning data to contribute to theory," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 31(8), pages 819-841, November.
    6. Empson, Laura, 2004. "Organizational identity change: managerial regulation and member identification in an accounting firm acquisition," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 29(8), pages 759-781, November.
    7. Barrett, Michael & Cooper, David J. & Jamal, Karim, 2005. "Globalization and the coordinating of work in multinational audits," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 1-24, January.
    8. Cooper, David J. & Robson, Keith, 2006. "Accounting, professions and regulation: Locating the sites of professionalization," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 31(4-5), pages 415-444.
    9. Anderson-Gough, Fiona & Grey, Christopher & Robson, Keith, 2001. "Tests of time: organizational time-reckoning and the making of accountants in two multi-national accounting firms," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 26(2), pages 99-122, March.
    10. Arnold, Patricia J., 2005. "Disciplining domestic regulation: the World Trade Organization and the market for professional services," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 299-330, May.
    11. Pentland, Brian T., 1993. "Getting comfortable with the numbers: Auditing and the micro-production of macro-order," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 18(7-8), pages 605-620.
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    Cited by:
    1. Pezé, Stéphan, 2012. "Controlling Managers ‘Becoming’: The Practices of Identity Regulation," Economics Papers from University Paris Dauphine 123456789/10084, Paris Dauphine University.
    2. Kornberger, Martin & Carter, Chris & Ross-Smith, Anne, 2010. "Changing gender domination in a Big Four accounting firm: Flexibility, performance and client service in practice," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 35(8), pages 775-791, November.
    3. Pezé, Stéphan, 2012. "How do organizations control managers ongoing identity? A study of micro-practices of identity regulation," Economics Papers from University Paris Dauphine 123456789/10083, Paris Dauphine University.
    4. Annisette, Marcia & Trivedi, Viswanath Umashanker, 2013. "Globalization, paradox and the (un)making of identities: Immigrant Chartered Accountants of India in Canada," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 1-29.
    5. Braithwaite, John, 2013. "Flipping markets to virtue with qui tam and restorative justice," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 38(6), pages 458-468.
    6. Joe O’Mahoney, 2011. "Advisory Anxieties: Ethical Individualisation in the UK Consulting Industry," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 104(1), pages 101-113, November.
    7. Stéphan Pezé, 2013. "Controlling managers' 'becoming': the practice of identity regulation," Post-Print hal-00849533, HAL.
    8. Ioana Lupu (ioan), 2011. "Approved routes and alternative paths: the construction of women's rarity in large accounting firms. Evidence from the Big Four France," Working Papers halshs-00626044, HAL.


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