Calculating a life: Classification, valuation and compensation in the British abolition of slavery

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This paper examines the calculative practices used by the Slave Compensation Commission to value a slave for the purposes of compensating slave owners on the abolishment of slavery across the British colonies in 1833. It contributes to accounting research in the field of valuation, particularly to understanding the practices of valuing human life.

The methodology is primarily archival and draws on the records of the Slave Compensation Commission held at the British National Archives (Kew).

The paper makes two contributions to the literature. Firstly, it contributes to the valuation studies literature by suggesting the significance of understanding the practice of valuation as a product of the dynamics of strategic action fields (Fligstein and McAdam, 2012). Secondly, it contributes to the theory of strategic action fields by revealing the role of calculative technologies in supporting the organizational apparatus of valuation within the Slave Compensation Commission, and therefore suggests the powerful role of accounting in stabilizing a strategic action field.

The paper provides novel insights into the monetary commensuration of life and the role of calculative technologies in that valuation process.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages30
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Early online date10 Nov 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Nov 2022


  • classification
  • compensation
  • slavery
  • strategic action fields
  • valuation
  • value


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