Accounting practitioners, work and organisations

Authored by: David J. Cooper , Keith Robson , Chiara Bottausci

The Routledge Companion to Accounting History

Print publication date:  April  2020
Online publication date:  April  2020

Print ISBN: 9780815375869
eBook ISBN: 9781351238885
Adobe ISBN:


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In this chapter we focus on one crucial site of accounting practice: the multinational professional service firms (the Big 4), and the historical studies that have examined their emergence and development. We identify six characteristic contributions of these histories and point out their strengths and limitations. First, most histories serve as celebrations of individual firms, practitioners and the service of the audit function. Second, clients are presented as the motor force in the growth and characteristics of the multinational firms. The third theme is the contribution of elite practitioners to the development of the accounting profession. Fourth, histories recount the spread of practitioners and accounting knowledge across geographical space. The fifth theme is the account of the nature of the practice of accounting firms – from bankruptcy, to audit, to management consultancy. Lastly, the histories account for the formal organisational structures of the firms. Later in the chapter we offer several suggestions for further research on firm histories: histories as managed organisations, the experience and practices of work, the firms’ role as cultural and political actors, and histories of firms as agents of imperialism.

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