‘‘When You Make Manager, We Put a Big Mountain in Front of You’’: An Ethnography of Managers in a Big 4 Accounting Firm

Martin Kornberger, Lise Justesen, Jan Mouritsen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Previous studies of the socialization of trainee accountants put emphasis on how disciplinary power mechanisms shape their professional identities. Literature on the ongoing growth and commercialization of the Big 4 Accounting Firms suggests that senior employees, and especially partners, have to be understood as entrepreneurially minded agents. These two bodies of knowledge provide the theoretical vantage point for our empirical analysis of the “missing link” between trainee and partner – the manager. Based on an ethnographic study of a Big 4 Firm (pseudonym Sky Accounting), we suggest understanding the career step of the manager as a rite of passage that has two effects: first, managers experience that their previous identity is destabilized; and second, our study shows how a set of new practices (performing, playing games and politicking) shape the identity of managers, enabling them to navigate the complex organizational network of a Big 4 Firm. We conclude our paper with a discussion of power effects of the rite of passage, how it shapes the identity of managers, and the practice of managerial work in a Big 4 Accounting Firm.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAccounting, Organizations and Society
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)514-533
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011

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