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“A witches' dance of numbers”: Fictional portrayals of business and accounting transactions at a time of crisis

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  • Lisa Evans
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    Purpose - This paper's purpose is to show how literary texts can be used as a source for gaining insights into social practices, including accounting. It aims to deepen our understanding of such social practices in their cultural, social, economic and political contexts by examining portrayals of business and accounting transactions and of reflections of social and economic concerns in two German novels set during a time of economic and political crisis, namely the Weimar Republic's hyperinflation period. Design/methodology/approach - The paper analyses, against the historical, social and economic backgrounds of the inflation period, the novels' authors' social and political perspectives as reflected in the novels; the literary devices employed; the way in which the description of business and accounting matters aids our understanding of everyday inflation period transactions and underlying economic and social concerns; and the links made between accounting/business, money and inflation on the one hand, and morality and rationality on the other hand. Findings - The paper finds that in this exceptional economic situation, the relationship between accounting and morality as explored by Maltby is reversed. The portrayal of (often unusual and creative) economic transactions is used to illustrate the lack of economic, legal and moral certainty experienced by individuals and to evoke and critique the damage caused by the hyperinflation on German society and on human relationships, including the commoditisation of all aspects of life and the resulting moral decline. Originality/value - The paper contributes to the literature exploring the role of representations of business/accounting and finance in narrative fiction. The novels examined here provide an alternative means for observing, interpreting and critiquing social phenomena, specifically in a setting where financial considerations dominate human interaction and social relationships.

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    Article provided by Emerald Group Publishing in its journal Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal.

    Volume (Year): 22 (2009)
    Issue (Month): 2 (January)
    Pages: 169-199

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    Handle: RePEc:eme:aaajpp:v:22:y:2009:i:2:p:169-199
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    1. Gallhofer, Sonja & Haslam, James, 1991. "The aura of accounting in the context of a crisis: Germany and the first world war," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 16(5-6), pages 487-520.
    2. Beard, Victoria, 1994. "Popular culture and professional identity: Accountants in the movies," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 19(3), pages 303-318, April.
    3. Hans-Ulrich Kupper & Richard Mattessich, 2005. "Twentieth century accounting research in the German language area," Accounting History Review, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 15(3), pages 345-410.
    4. Bougen, Philip D., 1994. "Joking apart: The serious side to the accountant stereotype," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 19(3), pages 319-335, April.
    5. Jackson, Myles W., 1992. "Goethe's economy of nature and the nature of his economy," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 17(5), pages 459-469, July.
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