The Accounting Historians Journal Vol. 14, No. 2 Fall 1987
MAUREEN H. BERRY, EDITOR University of Illinois
Understanding Accounting in its Social and Historical Context: The Case of Cost Accounting in Britain 1914-1925 (London Graduate School of Business Studies, 1986) by Anne Loft.
The study of accounting history can be approached in a variety of ways and some of them are neatly synthesized in the introduction to Loft's book. A dominant choice has been to use a technical focus, concentrating on accounting mechanics and procedures. As a result, the evolution of practice seems to be shaped primarily by fate and necessity. Also popular, particu-larly in financial accounting and auditing, is research into the history of professional associations. These "official histories" tend, however, to be influenced by a priori assumptions that accountants have high social importance and that organiza-tional form has contributed to their success. A third method, largely originated by Alfred Chandler, has been to related the evolution of cost and management accounting to that of larger business enterprises. A disadvantage here is the relatively nar-row perspective which emerges when the firm's environmental context is given little consideration.
In order to bring the contextual relationships of accounting-society into the picture, Loft has adopted the genealogical research persepective developed by Michel Foucault from concepts originated by Nietzsche. Essentially, the approach Foucault took in his book Discipline and Punish1 consisted of documenting the social and historical conditions which nurtured the development of disciplinary institutions and their disciplinary techniques. Translated into the sphere of cost and management accounting, the research topic is restated as addressing, through genealogical historical methodology, "the conditions under which the accounting techniques for knowing (sic) the business organization emerged and spread" [p. 16].
Loft recognized that the field of cost and management accounting is just one of the tools for achieving discipline in a
1Foucault, M. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Har-mondsworth: Penquin, 1977.