Creating numbers: carbon and capital investment

Gillian Maree Vesty, Abby Telgenkamp, Philip John Roscoe

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    29 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose -
    This case study seeks to illustrate the way in which carbon emissions are given calculative agency. We contribute to sociology of quantification with a specific focus on the performativity of the carbon number as it was introduced to the organisation's capital investment accounts. In following an intangible gas to a physical amount and then to a dollar value, we used categories from the sociology of quantification (Espeland and Stevens, 2008) to explore the persuasive attributes of the newly created number and the way it changed the
    work of actors, including the way they reacted and viewed authority.
    Design/methodology/approach –
    An empirical case study in a large Australian water utility drawing on insights from the sociology of calculation.
    Findings -
    We present empirics on the calculative appeal of the carbon emissions number,
    how it came into being and its performative (or reactive) effects. The number disciplined behaviour and acted like a boundary object, while at the same time, enrolled allies through its aesthetic appeal in management accounting system designs. In framing our empirics, we were able to highlight how the carbon number became a visible actor in the newly emergent and evolving carbon market.
    Research limitations/implications –
    This paper provides an empirical framing that continues the project of writing the sociology of calculation into accounting.
    Originality/value –
    This study contributes to the sociology of quantification in accounting with an empirical framing device to reveal the representational work of a number and how it expands as it becomes implicated in broader networks of calculation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)302-324
    JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2015


    • Sociology of quantification
    • Carbon accounting
    • Case study
    • Number


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