The Big 4 under Pressure: Scanning Work in Transnational Fields

Rasmus Corlin Christensen, Leonard Seabrooke*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

We investigate what happens when accounting professionals come under external pressure to change established practices. We focus on corporate tax transparency, which has become an important battleground as stakeholders increasingly demand more information on corporate tax practices. While the Big 4 global accounting firms have traditionally played a dominant role in shaping what is perceived as acceptable corporate tax behavior, activists and critical politicians have recently mobilized public attention, challenging how accounting professionals legitimate their practices. We provide evidence of these challenges from 33 interviews and participation in 13 professional events from 2013 to 2019. We conceive of the confrontation between dominant professionals and challengers as taking place in a transnational “field,” where a range of actors struggle over how a common object—corporate tax transparency—is defined and treated. This approach helps us understand how the Big 4 navigate new challenges while seeking to maintain control over professional practices. Our interviews and observations show that Big 4 professionals are sensitive to political challenges, requiring that they engage in what we characterize as “scanning work”—ongoing activity to search for, identify, and assess challenges—to fend off outside interventions. Our analysis has important implications for further research. First, the need for scanning work when facing transnational political pressure implies a different way of seeing interactions between accounting professionals and (global) society at large. Second, viewing global accounting from a transnational field lens helps us identify complex sources of change external to already-powerful actors.
Original languageEnglish
JournalContemporary Accounting Research
Volume39
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)2941-2969
Number of pages29
ISSN0823-9150
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022

Keywords

  • Big 4
  • Fields
  • Scanning wprl
  • Professionals
  • Activists
  • Tax transparency

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