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The image of accountants: From bean counters to extreme accountants

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Gudrun Baldvinsdottir, Göteborg University, Sweden
  • John Burns, Dundee University, United Kingdom
  • Hanne Nørreklit
  • Robert W. Scapens, Manchester Business School, United Kingdom
  • Accounting Research Centre - ARC
  • Department of Business Studies
Purpose - The aim of this paper is to investigate the extent to which a profound change in the image of accountants can be seen in the discourse used in accounting software adverts that have appeared in the professional publications of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants over the last four decades.

Design/methodology/approach - Methodologically, the paper draws from Barthes' work on the rhetoric of images and Giddens' work on modernity. By looking at accounting software adverts, an attempt is made to investigate the image of the accountant produced by the discourse of the adverts, and whether the image produced reflects a wide social change in society.

Findings - It was found that in the 1970s and the 1980s the accountant was constructed as a responsible and rational person. In the 1990s, the accountant was presented as an instructed action man. However, in a recent advert the accountant appeared as a more hedonistic person. Overall, the changes observed reflect changes in wider social practice from modernity, through high modernity, to hyper-modernity.

Research limitations/implications - The image of the accountants has implications for the development of the accounting profession. In particular, the move towards hyper-modernity, where empathy towards others and the virtues of self-discipline and fairness are not at stake, has implications for the trustworthiness of the accounting profession.

Originality/value - Although there has been some research into the image of accountants, particularly in the media and popular movies, extant works have mostly investigated how others perceive accountants and how accountants are generally portrayed. The paper however, places more stress on the construction of the image of the accountants when appealing to the accountants.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Pages (from-to)858-882
Publication statusPublished - 2009

    Research areas

  • Accountants, Advertising, Advertising media

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