Evaluative Infrastructures: Accounting for distributed network production


Accounting Organizations and Society

juillet 2017, vol. 60, n°7, pp.79-95

Départements : Comptabilité et Contrôle de Gestion

Mots clés : AccountingHierarchical consciousnessEvaluationInfrastructurePlatform organization!

Platform organizations such as Uber, eBay and Airbnb represent a growing disruptive phenomenon in contemporary capitalism, transforming economic organization, the nature of work, and the distribution of wealth. This paper investigates the accounting practices that underpin this new form of organizing, and in doing so confronts a significant challenge within the accounting literature: the need to escape what Hopwood (1996) describes as its “hierarchical consciousness”. In order to do so, this paper develops the concept of evaluative infrastructure which describes accounting practices that enable platform based organization. They are evaluative because they deploy a plethora of interacting devices, including rankings, ratings, reviews, and audits to establish orders of worth. They are infrastructures because they provide the invisible yet essential mechanisms for the flow of economic activity and exchange on platforms. Illustrating the concept of evaluative infrastructure with the example of eBay, the paper's contribution is to (1) provide an analytical vocabulary to capture the accounting practices underpinning platforms as new organizational forms, and in so doing (2) extend accounting scholars' analytical focus from hierarchical settings towards heterarchies. Conceptually, this shift from management accounting to evaluative infrastructures entails a focus on relationality (evaluative infrastructures do not represent or reference but relate things, people and ideas with each other); generativity (evaluative infrastructures do not territorialize objects but disclose new worlds); and new forms of control (evaluative infrastructures are not centres of calculation; rather, control is radically distributed, whilst power remains centralized).