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Understanding the responses of professional accounting bodies to crises: The case of the Australian profession in the 1960s

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this Australian case study, set in the 1960s, is to comprehensively examine the responses of the two major professional accounting bodies to a financial/corporate/regulatory crisis necessitating the defence of the profession's legitimacy. Design/methodology/approach ‐ This historical paper draws on surviving primary records and secondary sources and applies the perspectives on the dynamics of occupational groups and the legitimacy typology of Suchman. Findings ‐ While the history of the accounting profession has been characterized by intra-professional rivalries, this case study illustrates how such rivalries were put aside on recognising the power of collectivizing in defending the profession's legitimacy. Based on the available evidence, pragmatic legitimacy is shown to have been a key focus of attention by the major accounting bodies involved. Research limitations/implications ‐ The paper may motivate similar studies in Australia and elsewhere, thus potentially contributing to developing a literature on comparative international accounting history. The evidence for this historical investigation is largely restricted to surviving documents, making it necessary to rely on assessments of the key sources. Originality/value ‐ In addressing responses to crises in defending the legitimacy of the profession as a whole, the paper makes an original contribution in exploring the relationship between literature on the dynamics of occupational groups and on legitimacy management.
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Keywords: Accounting history; Australia; Case studies; Corporate collapse; Crisis; Legitimacy; Professionalisation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2012-06-15

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