Auditing and the purification of blame

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Publication details

Skæbæk, P & Christensen, M 2015, 'Auditing and the purification of blame', Contemporary Accounting Research, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 1263-1284.

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Although public sector special audit and performance audit are frequently involved in blame, very few studies (save for Radcliffe 1997) provide detailed empirical accounts on how auditing participates in blame allocation. This study sets out to study one case of blame allocation by describing and characterizing the origins of failure and antecedents leading to the need for blame allocation, the institutional entities and arrangements that participate in the blame game, and how these entities, including the supreme audit institution, are mobilized in the processes of blame allocation. Applying a case methodology with Actor–Network Theory principles, the study extends Hood's (2002, 2007) research on blame and blame avoidance strategies by showing how a blame-frame evaluates and allocates blame. The contribution of the paper is in four parts: first, it reveals the mechanisms that cause scapegoating of particular people and the role of auditors as experts in such mechanisms; second, it assists to develop an understanding of some factors at the core of the “accountability paradox” noted by Roberts (2009); third, it contributes to explanations as to why failing public sector reforms survive controversy and scandal since a scapegoating process can “reboot” reforms by erasing the reform's problems; and fourth, it demonstrates that an understanding of blame can be a useful addition to Actor–Network Theory.