The tyranny of transparent accounting: Corporate face and Levinasian ethics as a political critique of business practice
Farnsworth, John; Lewis, Malcolm
We begin with the key idea, following Callon (2004) that data is a form of politics or political action. This we will argue enables us to see technologies as well as actors in organisations as involved in creating political activity. Our interest is in the way Levinas’s ethics allows us to articulate what otherwise remains silent: this opens enquiry into the engagement with the Other’s ineradicable alterity, to questions of justice and the third, and to the way that accounting practice persistently reduces the Other to the Same. To move from the politics of data to the ethics of accounting and business practice we draw together elements of actor network theory with Levinas’s thinking. We do this to show how data can speak its politics: in speaking, it revives the possibility of the uncontainable Saying over the fixed codification of the Said. We develop this argument by looking at how the seemingly transparent activities of accounting and audit practice as forms of codification conceal a form of domination that silences ethical engagement with the Other and the third. We link such practices to the larger economic system of financialisation in which contemporary accounting practice is embedded. Lastly, we take the case of Telecom New Zealand, a medium-sized international IT company, to point to the way it routinely deploys data, in forms such as the annual report, to obscure the politics in which it is engaged.
Publisher: University of Otago
Series number: 06/01
Research Type: Working Paper