Books to be practiced: Memory, the power of the visual, and the success of accounting

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The aim of this paper is to explore the conditions which allow the emergence of accounting as a performable technique that can spread successfully across economies and societies. Drawing on insights offered by studies on the art of memory, Actor-Network Theory, and that broader branch of history known as the history of the book, it is argued that the emergence and spread of accounting can be understood by studying the relationships among four interrelated aspects: the nature of accounting as a method of classification for the organisation of thinking and knowledge; its reliance on images and its visual impact; its 'orthopraxis' nature, which offers a workable space and time; and the relationships between accounting and the medium through in which it materialises. The combination of these four features explains how it is that accounting is a practice which is homogeneous enough to be recognised as autonomous and heterogeneous enough to attract diversity and create difference. I was motivated to study these issues after examining two early accounting treatises: the Indirizzo degli Economi, by the Benedictine, Pietra (1586) [Pietra, A. (1586). Indirizzo degli economi o sia ordinatissima istruttione da regolamente formare qualunque scrittura in un libro doppio. Aggiuntovi l'essemplare di un Libro nobile co 'l suo Giornale ad uso della Congregatione Cassinese dell'Ordine in San Benedetto. Mantova: Francesco Osanna]; and the Trattato del libro doppio domestico col suo essemplare, by the Jesuit, Flori (1636), [Flori, L. (1636). Trattato del modo di tenere il libro doppio domestico col suo essemplare composto dal P. Lodovico Flori della Compagnia di Gesù per uso delle case e dei collegi della medesima Compagnia nel Regno di Sicilia, in Palermo, per Decio Cirillo]. Along with studies examining the emergence of modern management as a result of an economic need for rationalisation, the paper offers material for reflecting on a concomitant rationale which views innovations in the method of organisation, visual presentation, medium of communication, and praxis, as the mayor forces in the diffusion of accounting in both historical and contemporary settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-118
Number of pages34
JournalAccounting, Organizations and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


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