The preservation of indigenous
accounting systems in a subaltern
Accounting Group, Essex Business School, University of Essex,
Colchester, UK, and
School of Management and Business, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK
Purpose – The paper aims to examine how indigenous accounting practices are mobilised in the
daily life of a subaltern community, and how and why the members of that community have managed
to preserve such practices over time despite external pressures for change.
Design/methodology/approach – An ethno-methodological ﬁeld study is employed to produce a
text that informs readers about the ways in which people engage in social accounting practices. It uses
the concepts of structuration theory to understand how indigenous accounting systems are shaped by
the interplay between the actions of agents and social structures.
Findings – The case study suggests that it is the strongly prevailing patronage based political
system, as mobilised into the subaltern social structure, which makes individuals unable to change
and exercise their agencies, and tends to “preserve” and “sustain” indigenous accounting systems.
Social accounting is seen as the common language of the inhabitants in their everyday life, as
sanctioned by the unique form of autonomy-dependency relationship shaped by patronage politics.
Research limitations/implications – The ﬁndings imply that any form of rational
transformations in indigenous accounting systems in local subaltern communities requires a
phenomenological analysis of any prevailing and dominant patronage political systems.
Originality/value – This is the ﬁrst empirical study that focuses on how and why local subaltern
communities preserve their indigenous accounting practices over time. This contrasts with previous
work that has focused on the presence or absence of accounting beyond work organisations.
Keywords Accounting, Political systems, Communities, Developing countries, Sri Lanka
Paper type Research paper
Despite recent work in the area the presence and effect of accounting categories and
records beyond work organisations, such as those found in homes and small
communities, have largely remained unexplored since initial calls for accounting to be
studied in such environments (Gambling, 1974; Choudhury, 1988). In an attempt to
redress the imbalance this paper explores how and why indigenous accounting
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The authors would like to acknowledge two anonymous referees of the Accounting, Auditing
& Accountability Journal (AAAJ) and the participants at the Accounting and Subalternity
Conference, Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto, Canada, August 2007, for
their valuable comments and suggestions. They also thank Cameron Graham, Mathew Tsamenyi
and Danture Wickramasinghe for their useful advice and feedback.
Received 5 December 2007
Revised 24 July 2007
Accepted 21 November 2008
Accounting, Auditing &
Vol. 22 No. 3, 2009
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited