Accounting for a city project
GRI, School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg,
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the complexity of accounting for the city, on a
speciﬁc example of an urban project in Rome.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper is based on a study consisting of various accounts of
the project, including a photo reportage done by the author.
Findings – The study revealed that in spite of, and perhaps because of, a multitude of accounts, it
was difﬁcult if not impossible to follow the chain of translations from a political decision to actual
events in the city. One of the reasons is the politicians’ tendency to manipulate accounts; another is the
hermetic character of technical accounts, including accounting, which makes actual processes more
opaque rather than more transparent.
Research limitations/implications – Within research perspective, a conceptualization of city
management as a construction and maintenance of an action net might be helpful in attempts to render
the complexity of translations of events and actions into words and numbers, and vice versa.
Practical implications – The practical implication is that a more focused and consistent translation
is needed, leaving open the question who should accomplish it. The possible candidates are the media,
citizens’ organizations and researchers.
Originality/value – The paper offers a possible interpretative frame for studying city management,
enriching it by the inclusion of visual reporting.
Keywords Accounting, Cities, Information management, Italy, Governance
Paper type Research paper
City management as action net
City management can be conceptualized as a complex action net, that is collective
actions connected to one another because they are perceived, within a given
institutional order, as requiring each other (Czarniawska, 2004). Thus city
management can be seen as a set of actions accomplished within a seamless web of
interorganizational networks, wherein city authorities constitute just one point of entry
and by no means provide a map of the whole terrain (Czarniawska, 2002). Such an
action net is situated among many other action nets operating in the same terrain, but
also among others dispersed all over the world yet connected by the same activity –
the managing of the big cities. In such a perspective, organizing the city means
connecting actions to one another; if such a connection takes hold, one may speak of an
action net. When an action net survives for some time, it may provide identities to the
actors and stabilize into a network, which in time can even try to pass for an
actor-network, thereby gaining power. Pipan and Porsander (2000) have described the
organization of the celebration of the Third Millennium of Christianity in Rome as a
construction of an action net. Jubilee required pilgrims to be accommodated, which
meant, among many other things, disposing of the litter they were going to produce.
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Received 12 January 2009
Revised 10 June 2009
Accepted 10 November 2009
Accounting, Auditing &
Vol. 23 No. 3, 2010
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited