Living with numbers: Accounting for subjectivity in/with management accounting systems

Eric Fay, Lucas Introna, Francois-Regis Puyou

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    30 Citations (Scopus)


    The disembodying and disembedding of work through systems of abstraction (such as management accounting systems) were fundamental to the establishment of regimes of management that act, not directly and immediately on others, but instead acts upon their actions—i.e. the establishment of management as a regime of governmentality. Time-space distanciation, through abstraction (such as numbers) and electronic mediation, has radically transformed the way organisational actors interrelate and make sense of their everyday organisational lives. This paper argues and shows that phenomenology, in particular the work of Michel Henry, can help us understand how actors live their lives in and through the simultaneity of systems of abstraction and their affective, embodied and situated living praxis. The paper presents a case study of how different organisational actors (managers and controllers) make sense of, and live with, the numbers in a management accounting system—numbers that affect them quite profoundly. The analysis of the case shows that all interpretation, sense-making and argumentation of, and with the numbers are rendered possible through re-embodiment. Such a re-embodiment, in turn, require as necessary a prior reference to their subjective affective life—their own living praxis. If this is the case, as we hope our research shows, then subjective affective life should not be subjugated by the formal rational discourse of management but should rather be seen for what it is—the very source of meaning that is the condition of possibility for abstraction and mediation to be possible at all. The paper concludes with some implications of Henry’s phenomenology of life for organisations and management research.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)21-43
    Number of pages23
    JournalInformation and Organization
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


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