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Accounting in Bhopal: Making Catastrophe

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Publication details

JournalCritical Perspectives on Accounting
DateAccepted/In press - 12 Oct 2019
Original languageEnglish


The study examines the pervasive role of accounting constructs in the machinations of catastrophe. Using the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy in India as a case, we draw upon the notions of performativity and paralogy advocated by Jean-François Lyotard (1979 trans. 1984), in his seminal work “The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge”, to showcase how a preoccupation with the maximisation of efficiency, predicated on an illusion of complete control over the system, paved the way for entropy and disaster. Combining document analysis and interviews with key participants, we develop what Lyotard (1984) terms as a petit récit or little narrative, which offers a paralogical evaluation of the tragedy based on dissensus, incorporating conflicting multiple perspectives that suggest the deep-seated nature of accounting constructs in the design of catastrophe. In the process we develop a locally rooted alternative interpretation of the events that preceded the disaster and question the facade of responsibility and safety professed by the 1984 Annual Reports of the Union Carbide Corporation and Union Carbide India Limited.

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