Paradoxical puzzles of control and circuits of power

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Journal Article
Qualitative Research in Accounting and Management, 2015, 12 (4), pp. 425 - 451
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© Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Purpose - This paper aims to clarify a paradox in an organisation: in the past, formally powerful "central" actors confronted important limitations in their relations with formally less powerful actors. However, three innovations - the financial accounting module of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, a corporate centre (CC) and a shared services centre (SSC) - substantially changed and re-centred network power relations. The authors adopt a critical discourse to explain this paradox, contributing to the emerging literature on SSCs and bridging the management control and power literatures. Design/methodology/approach - An in-depth, processual, actor-network theory-inspired three-year case study of a large Portuguese manufacturer. Findings - As the intertwined accounting-related innovations were (re)mobilised by actors, dynamically adjusting to unfolding repercussions, control and power effects emerged, enabling enhanced organisational steering. Research limitations/implications - Based on a single case, this paper highlights effects of managerial technologies, in particular ERPs and SSCs, on control and power relations, and refines Clegg's model for future research. Practical implications - The transactional, low value-Added activities typically performed by SSCs should not lead to underestimating their potentially profound organisational consequences. However, the surrounding socio-technical network is decisive for the emerging, inter-related repercussions. Originality/value - This paper explains the relative capacity of actors to influence the practices and configuration of the organisational network structurally, fixing power relations within the socio-technical network through innovations in the accounting area, in particular ERPs and SSCs. By revising Clegg's circuits of power framework, this paper contributes to understanding possibilities and limits of accounting techniques in management control procedures.
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