Intricate Involuted Intertwinings : On Accounting, Technology, and Materiality

Abstract: The Information Age was supposed to be different. It was supposed to transform every aspect of our lives, and accounting was going to be no exception. Yet, management accounting as an academic discipline has had a fraught relationship with technology – each generation of new information technology has been written about in enthusiastic terms, only to be followed by disillusionment and abandonment some years later. It is the contention of this thesis that our current conceptualisation of the role of information technology in management accounting, where the technological and the social are understood to be two fundamentally separate and distinct entities, is inadequate in addressing the sociomaterial nature of technology, and consequently we are unable to grasp the ways in which technology is made to work in practice. New technologies in organisations do not produce change in a straightforward, predictable manner. Instead, technology and organisational processes intertwine in complex patterns, leading to the emergence of novel practices and sometimes unforeseen outcomes.  This thesis studies the mundane, material aspect of work from a sociomaterial perspective, one that emphasises the nature of technology as inseparable entanglements between the social and the material, in order to better understand the intricate, involuted intertwining between technology and management accounting. The papers that make up this thesis draw from a variety of sociological writings, including those of Knorr Cetina, Deleuze, and Galloway & Thacker, and find that technology is not solely the domain of designers and purchasers of technological systems, but is rather continuous performed by rank and file users in mundane interactions with technological artefacts. Moreover, they show that management accounting practices have material grounds, that the variety of devices we encounter in accounting, be they a chart, an ERP system, or an online ranking mechanism, do not exist in the world as disembodied and abstract concepts, but have materiality to them, and that this materiality shapes practices, often in unforeseen ways. These findings are a first step toward understanding the practical, everyday work involved in making technology work, and in turn making way for more grounded expectations of the effects of technology on management accounting.