The critical potential of institutional theory revisited — a field study of the rationalisation of budget fairness through agentic actorhood

Thomas Ahrens, Laurence Ferry, Rihab Khalifa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: This paper seeks to contribute to the debate on the usefulness of institutional theory to critical studies. It pursues this topic by exploring some of the possibilities for allocating local authority funds more fairly for poor residents. This paper aims to shed light on the institution of budgeting in a democratically elected local government under austerity. Design/methodology/approach: This paper uses world culture theory, the study of the devolution of cultural authority to individuals and organisations through which they turn into agentic actors. Based on a field study of Newcastle City Council’s (NCC’s) budget-related practices, the paper uses the notion of actorhood to explore the use of fairness in austerity budgets. Findings: This paper documents how new concerns with fairness gave rise to new local authority practices and gave NCC characteristics of actorhood. This paper also shows why it might make sense for a local authority that is managing austerity budget cuts and cutting back on services to make more detailed performance information public, rather than attempting to hide service deterioration, as some prior literature suggests. This paper delineates the limits to actorhood, in this study’s case, principally the inability to overcome structural constraints of legal state power. Practical implications: The paper is suggestive of ways in which local government can fight inequality in opposition to central government austerity. Originality/value: To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first qualitative accounting study of actorhood. It coins the phrase fairness assemblage to denote a combination of various accounting technologies, organisational elements and local government practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)593-620
Number of pages28
JournalQualitative Research in Accounting and Management
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 25 2023


  • Austerity
  • Budgeting
  • Fairness
  • Institutional theory
  • Local government

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Accounting


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