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Accounting, hybrids and the management of risk

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This essay addresses the implications of accounting and hybrids for the management of risk. We argue firstly and most generally for a definition of hybrids that extends beyond organisational forms. The existing literature, we suggest, has been too focused on organisational forms, and has largely neglected the hybrid practices, processes and expertises that make possible lateral information flows and coordination across the boundaries of organisations, firms, and groups of experts or professionals. Secondly, we argue that the management of organisations is rapidly being transformed into and formalised around the management of risk, while much of the management of uncertainty occurs through a variety of hybrids that reside beyond the formalised practices of risk management. Thirdly, we argue that accounting practices are central to these issues, in so far as accounting is constantly engaged in a dual hybridisation process, seeking to make visible and calculable the hybrids that it encounters, while at the same time hybridising itself through encounters with a range of other disciplines. We address these issues in three main stages. The first section considers the ‘discovery’ of hybrid organisational forms by researchers on management and organisations over the course of more than two decades. The second section examines the ways in which economists, lawyers and other social scientists have considered the issue of hybrids. Here, the preoccupation with hybrid organisational forms largely continues, with its attendant neglect of hybrid practices, processes and expertises. The third section considers the discovery of a wider range of hybrids by researchers in accounting, and examines two specific arenas in which the hybridising of accounting expertise has been central: the microprocessor industry, and the various encounters between medical and financial expertise in the context of the ‘New Public Management’ reforms. The essay concludes with a discussion of the implications of this broader definition of hybrids for accounting and the management of risk.

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