How Accounting Research Understands Performativity: Effects and Processes of a Multi-faceted Notion

Lichen Yu, Christian Huber*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

Purpose – This paper aims to review the literature on the use of the notion of performativity and its related concepts in accounting research. The literature uses the term performativity in almost diametrically different ways, yet most papers assume that the meaning of the term is self-evident. We build on recent reviews of the notion of performativity and explicate the implicit tensions in the accounting literature, discovering a need to clarify how the accounting literature has explored the processes – how accounting becomes performative – and effects – what is performed – of accounting performativity. The paper develops suggestions for future theoretical and empirical research.

Design/methodology/approach – The authors have searched in six leading accounting journals (Accounting, Organizations and Society, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, Management Accounting Research, Critical Perspectives on Accounting and Qualitative Research in Accounting and Management) for the terms “performativity” and/or “performative” and/or “performable”. This yielded 289 results from which we distilled a core sample of 92 papers which substantially draw on the concept and explicate their use of the term.

Findings – The authors find that the accounting literature has paid almost equal attention to the conforming and amplifying effects of performativity but has mostly explored how conditions of performativity are built. Less attention has been paid to how accounting generates multiple worlds and how differences in these worlds are coordinated by accounting. Building institutions and searching for accounting incompleteness have been developed as the two main processes where accounting is made performative.

Research limitations/implications – The paper develops avenues for future research, highlighting the potential for a deeper understanding of how the notion of performativity can be used. We do not advocate homogenizing the literature, instead exploring its fruitful tensions to discover a renewed interest in how accounting is constitutive of existing and/or new worlds. We illustrate this potential by reflecting on the debates about accounting incompleteness and the boundaries of accounting. The authors also suggest the potentials for concepts of performativity in studying emerging phenomena such as big data and sustainability and revisiting the ethics of using accounting as a social and organizational practice.

Originality/value – The literature review explicates differences in the use of the term performativity, which usually remain implicit in the literature. The study develops a framework that attends to both the processes – problematizing the conditions for performativity or not – and effects – conforming and amplifying – of performativity accounting studies have drawn upon, which clarifies how the accounting literature has mobilized the notion of performativity and the contributions the accounting literature has added. Further, the authors extend Vosselman’s (2022) review both in scope and nuance.
Original languageEnglish
JournalQualitative Research in Accounting and Management
Volume20
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)704-738
Number of pages35
ISSN1176-6093
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Published online: 26 September 2023.

Keywords

  • Performativity
  • Accounting
  • Conforming/amplifying performativity
  • Conditions of performativity
  • Accounting incompleteness

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