Audit Culture Revisited: Rankings, Ratings and the Reassembling of Society

Shore, Cris and Wright, Susan. 2015. Audit Culture Revisited: Rankings, Ratings and the Reassembling of Society. Current Anthropology, 56(3), pp. 421-444. ISSN 0011-3204 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The spread of the principles and techniques of financial accounting into new systems for measuring, ranking, and auditing performance represents one of the most important and defining features of contemporary governance. Audit procedures are redefining accountability, transparency, and good governance and reshaping the way organizations and individuals have to operate. They also undermine professional autonomy and have unanticipated and dysfunctional consequences. Taking up the concept of audit culture as an analytical framework, we examine the origins, spread, and rationality driving these new financialized techniques of governance, not least through the work of the Big Four accountancy firms, and trace their impact across a number of fields, from administration and the military to business corporations and universities. We ask, what new kinds of ethics of accountability does audit produce? Building on Mitchell (1999), Strathern (2000a), Trouillot (2001), and Merry (2011), we identify how the techniques and logics of financial accountancy have five audit effects. These are “domaining,” “classificatory,” “individualizing and totalizing,” “governance,” and “perverse” effects. We conclude by reflecting on the problems of audit culture and suggest ways to reclaim the professional values and democratic spaces that are being eroded by these new systems of governing by numbers.

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©2015 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

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11 December 2013Submitted
11 October 2014Accepted
6 May 2015Published

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15 Feb 2019 12:33

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09 Jun 2021 14:47

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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