Mary Douglas, risk and accounting failures

Linsley, P. M., Shrives, P. J.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sociology and anthropology are especially valuable in providing a critical understanding of the risk-related implications of modernity. There has, however, been relatively little discussion of the work of Mary Douglas within accounting although her pioneering writings in the area of risk have been highly influential. This paper uses Douglas’ cultural theory of risk to provide an alternative perspective on the demise of Enron and Andersen. The failure at Enron is interpreted through the grid-group model and analysed as a series of events that threaten to destabilize established cultures. Accounting is thus construed as an activity that exists on the margins of boundaries. There are two important conclusions drawn from the analysis. First, as the worldviews of both the individualist and hierarchical cultures became threatened by the ensuing crisis they collaborated to ensure their perpetuation. This also averted individuals from becoming susceptible to recruitment by subversive egalitarian groups. Second, the individualistic culture of Andersen shaped practices within the firm weakening its ability to act as a gatekeeper and therefore public accounting firms need to modify their cultures if they are to police the margins effectively.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)492-508
Number of pages17
JournalCritical Perspectives on Accounting
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - May 2009

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