Bury Pacioli in Africa: A bookkeeper's reification of accountancy

A Sy, T Tinker

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)


    The origins of accountancy are all too frequently equated with the antecedents of double-entry bookkeeping, notwithstanding warnings from both Pacioli and Littleton to the contrary. It is ironic that Pacioli-the formalizer of double-entry bookkeeping-is lionized today in the appellation, 'Father of Accounting'. Here, we argue that this promotion of Pacioli the Technocrat fails to acknowledge incipient social aspects of his work (and that found in more ancient texts). Further, we contend that such reconstruct ions of Paciolian and ancient works are not entirely innocent. Rather, they fit nicely with a Eurocentric and post-colonial ideology, which anoints with enthusiasm an Italian monk as accounting's premier contributor to modern civilization (sic). This view simultaneously construes other civilizations as underdeveloped, pre-modern, and even barbaric (with the corollary of providing a moral pretext for invading, occupying and 'saving' a subjugated people). It should come as no surprise that Western accounting scholars haven't searched too hard for alternative 'Fathers of Accounting' among colonized civilizations. This article, in contrast to the orthodox wisdom, seeks to redeem Littleton's notion of 'Accountancy' in a way that encompasses the diversity of counting, measuring, recording, reporting and accountability that functioned in different ancient and contemporary social formations. Such a view introduces an older and richer lineage for accountancy-as a field that is, and always has been, integral to social, political and cultural life. In short, we propose burying Pacioli the Bookkeeper, and redeeming Pacioli the Social Actor, by explicating the social, cultural and political content inchoate in his work, and that found in even more explicit pre-Paciolian ancient texts (particularly those from Africa, that reach back to the Dawn of Civilization).

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)105-127
    Number of pages23
    JournalABACUS-A Journal of Accounting Finance and Business Studies
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2006


    • Africa
    • bookkeeping
    • capitalism
    • diop
    • double entry
    • eurocentricism
    • Pacioli


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