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The office: The weakness of numbers and the production of non-authority


  • Asdal, Kristin


It often seems to be taken for granted that numbers produce effects and that practices of accounting enhance authority. This also goes for accounting and the environment. This paper shares this belief and argues that practices of accounting have been a crucial technology for taking nature or 'the environment' into account in the post-war era. Nevertheless, the 'constitutive turn' in the studies of accounting should not tempt us to leave unexplored the limitation of accounting practices and the inabilities to govern by numbers. With a point of departure in a pollution control agency, the paper explores the making of a non-authoritative office. It points to the emergence of what is labelled 'accounting intimacy' rather than the exertion of government at a distance. The paper also points to the ways in which the agency, rather than building a separate and distinct authority, came to reproduce the actor subjected to being governed, i.e., the polluting factory, within its own office. The author argues that this can be related to the investment in a shared 'technical interest' and the belief that the right (emission) number in itself would be sufficient to move the factory. The paper then explores the conditions for which numbers nevertheless came to have effects. The argument is that this should be seen as inextricably linked to the emergence of an 'interesting object', i.e., 'the environment' and an environmental interest, within the office. Thus, we need to pay attention to the formation of interests, and as accounting scholars turn to 'the environment', the latter should not be taken for granted.

Suggested Citation

  • Asdal, Kristin, 2011. "The office: The weakness of numbers and the production of non-authority," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 1-9, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:aosoci:v:36:y:2011:i:1:p:1-9

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hopwood, Anthony G., 2009. "Accounting and the environment," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 34(3-4), pages 433-439, April.
    2. Burchell, Stuart & Clubb, Colin & Hopwood, Anthony & Hughes, John & Nahapiet, Janine, 1980. "The roles of accounting in organizations and society," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 5-27, January.
    3. Callon, Michel, 2009. "Civilizing markets: Carbon trading between in vitro and in vivo experiments," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 34(3-4), pages 535-548, April.
    4. Engels, Anita, 2009. "The European Emissions Trading Scheme: An exploratory study of how companies learn to account for carbon," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 34(3-4), pages 488-498, April.
    5. MacKenzie, Donald, 2009. "Making things the same: Gases, emission rights and the politics of carbon markets," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 34(3-4), pages 440-455, April.
    6. Cook, Allan, 2009. "Emission rights: From costless activity to market operations," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 34(3-4), pages 456-468, April.
    7. Braun, Marcel, 2009. "The evolution of emissions trading in the European Union - The role of policy networks, knowledge and policy entrepreneurs," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 34(3-4), pages 469-487, April.
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