Organisational control as cultural practice-A shop floor ethnography of a Sheffield steel mill

Thomas Ahrens, Massimiliano Mollona

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Citations (Scopus)


Field studies of management control and accounting have tended to study organisational meaning through practices. We identify three strands of practice research on organisational control (viz., governmentality, actor network theory, and accountability) and propose a forth: cultural practice. The study of control as cultural practice is grounded in observation because it conceives of cultural knowledge as practical and largely extra-linguistic. It conceptualises organisational control as an effect of the actions and ideas of organisational members beyond the ranks of management, thus widening the field of empirical inquiry. It also makes studies of steady state organisations more attractive thereby opening the possibility that the assemblages of people, purposes, and technologies, which give rise to specific forms of organisational control, may be understood as less ephemeral than, particularly, studies of governmentality and actor network theory have suggested. Our ethnography of a steel mill in Sheffield is based on 11 months of participant observation on the shop floors of the hot and cold departments. We argue that the subcultures of different shop floors were constituted in practices of control which enabled organisational members to pursue diverse objectives that were related to their various wider cultural aspirations. Organisational control practices relied on diverse accountings and accounts of organisational actions and purposes. Whilst we found considerable diversity between subcultures, we also found that individual subcultures, and the tensions and contradictions within them, exhibited much continuity. The ability of studies of organisational subcultures to bring out the diversity as well as continuity of practices holds considerable potential for our understanding of organisational control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-331
Number of pages27
JournalAccounting, Organizations and Society
Issue number4-5
Publication statusPublished - May 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Information Systems and Management


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