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Profession, race and empire: keeping the centre pure, 1921-1927

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Abstract:

Purpose ‐ This paper seeks to examine the social construction of the racialised, colonial subaltern accountant in the British imperial centre in the early twentieth century.. Design/methodology/approach ‐ Primary sources are used to provide an historical analysis of the British accountancy arena in the 1920s, this being the period when "race thinking" first became explicit. Secondary histories of race and empire are used to contextualise this analysis by highlighting: the growth of "race thinking" in the latter part of the nineteenth and the early decades of the twentieth centuries; and the American challenge to British imperial hegemony after the First World War. Findings ‐ This paper tracks the struggles of British accountants in the imperial centre in the 1920s to find a path between racialist attitudes in the imperial centre, their own included and countervailing discourses of non-discrimination. For the Scottish chartered bodies, this involved the development of a de facto barrier to entry when a proposed de jure one aroused, surprisingly enough, the prospect of retaliation from American accountants. Research limitations/implications ‐ Limitations in the primary sources preclude detailed examination of the attitudes of individuals or for all variations in the positions adopted by particular bodies. Practical implications ‐ The troubling thing about the demise of explicit race talk by the end of the 1920s is that de facto barriers to the entry of the racialised, subordinated Other remained in place. Originality/value ‐ This paper shows that the rise of race thinking in Britain did not leave British accountancy untouched; largely through the pressure it placed upon the identity of British accountants qua Britons and the consequential issue of inclusion/exclusion of non-Britons.

Keywords: Accountancy; Accounting history; Race

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09513570910945688

Publication date: March 27, 2009

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