The construction of the efficient office: Scientific management, accountability and the neo-liberal state

Lee D Parker, Ingrid Jeacle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The office has been a central site of organisational planning, accountability and control since the 19th century. Yet it has been the subject of relatively little accounting research. Through the dual theoretical lenses of Foucaultian and Labour Process theories, this study employs historical photo-elicitation methodology to investigate the implementation of management control and accountability in the scientifically managed office which emerged in the US during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Our analysis reveals the manner in which accounting records created new modes of disciplinary control and surveillance within the office and how accounting tasks were deskilled in a gradually feminised and mechanised office environment. We also witness the role of accounting in the physical structuring of office space through the assembly line arrangement of office furniture to facilitate paper flows and the installation of record keeping systems of surveillance. In addition, our visually derived historical account of these transformations in office administration allows us to reflect on some contemporary issues. The production line design and efficiency so promoted by scientific management served as a forerunner to the today’s open plan office, as well as influencing contemporary office management philosophies such as Activity-Based Working (ABW). Furthermore, we seek to inform current debates on the role of accounting in contemporary neo-liberal society. In the history of the scientific office, we gain an early glimpse of the subsequent role that accounting comes to play within a neo-liberal agenda as a powerful technology of micro-measurement and micro management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1883-1926
JournalContemporary Accounting Research
Issue number3
Early online date11 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019


  • Foucault
  • labour process
  • neo-liberalism
  • photo-elicitation
  • scientific management


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