Accounting for imperialism: a case of British-imposed indigenous collaboration
The involvement of accounting in imperial expansion in the South Pacific during the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century is critically analysed. Through a study of archival data, it examines the way in which the practice of accounting became involved in the production of a calculative knowledge of imperialism. In particular, it explores: (a) the processes through which an indigenous Fijian élitist structure was transformed into a British instrument of domination and control; (b) the way in which accounting calculations and explanations were imposed upon the indigenous chiefs; and (c) the way in which accounting, once imposed, was used as an integral part of imperial policies and activities for Empire expansion. The study highlights that before annexation what was previously seen to be just a question of an "American debt" came to be seen as requiring formal imperial intervention. During formal imperial rule, however, British reaction to indigenous resistance to accounting-based administration was managed through a bargaining policy. This change enabled high chiefs to enjoy a "special immunity" through accounting's negotiable interpretations, interrelationships and explanations. Accounting as a financial and an administrative system of accountability thus became an integral part of a British-imposed collaborative system of imperialism.