The translation of accrual accounting and budgeting and the reconfiguration of public sector accountants identities


Critical Perspectives on Accounting

juillet 2014, vol. 25, n°4-5, pp.324-338

Départements : Comptabilité et Contrôle de Gestion, GREGHEC (CNRS)

Mots clés : New Public Management, Public sector, Identity, Accrual accounting and Budgeting, Actor-Network-Theory, Secteur public, Nouvelle gestion publique

Under the umbrella of New Public Management (NPM) and managerialism, the last three decades have seen a widespread transformation of public sector accounting and budgeting from a cash to an accrual basis. Much of the ensuing research, however, has focused more on technical evaluations of these programmes and less on informing our knowledge of the interaction between such programmes and accountants. As public sector accountants (PSAs) are central entities in such programmes, the purpose of this paper is to focus on the reconfiguration of their identities. Using the theoretical lens of Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) and its concept of translation, this study seeks to explain how PSAs’ identities were transformed through the introduction of Accrual Output-Based Budgeting (AOBB) in two German states. Our analysis shows that the change of accounting regime was not a straightforward one, but rather involved that accountants faced particular challenges responding to several interessement devices that were used to enrol them into the new practices. We link this behaviour to a Weberian facet of the PSAs’ identity, which prevented serious project stagnancy and ‘strategies of total resistance’, but also precluded many accountants from enrolling easily into AOBB, or even developing enthusiasm. The paper suggests that several groups of accountants, rather than one, experienced different challenges in aligning with AOBB and that each assumed their compromises and investments in developing with accrual accounting