A Critique – ‘(Re)figuring accounting and maternal bodies: The gendered embodiment of accounting professionals’ by Kathryn Haynes

Published: 2019/12/05 Number of words: 2308


Haynes (2007) suggests that the ‘notions of bodily discipline, technologies of the body, mind and body, bodily power relations, and sex differences’ are of interest to those involved in management, psychology, philosophy and feminist literature (for example, Butler, 1990; Foucault, 1977 and 1979; Irigaray,1999; Kirkup et al.,2000). However, although this suggests that the body and self are important research areas, there is little emphasis on a wider range of feminist research areas, such as race, culture, or the universal categorisation of women (Gallhofer, 1998).

Conboy et al. (1997) identify the body as being at the centre of feminist theory because it offers no such ‘natural’ foundation for our pervasive cultural assumptions about femininity. Historically, women have been determined by their bodies: their individual awakenings and actions, their pleasure and their pain compete with representations of the female body in larger social frameworks.

Similar Ideas

Gallhofer (1998) highlights how, over the past two decades, there has been a significant increase of literature concerned with applying a feminist perspective to the analysis of accounting practices. This has coincided with the significant increase in women participating in the accounting profession. Accompanying this are studies highlighting the fact that fewer women than men are achieving senior positions and women tend to work in smaller firms or as sole practitioners (Pillsbury et al., 1989).

Desai and Waite (1991) examine the argument that women are attracted to traditionally female occupations because, presumably, these are relatively easy to combine with family responsibilities. However, although their research focuses predominantly on female occupations, they test the hypothesis that a woman’s response to the characteristics of her occupation and to other factors depends, in the long run, on her preference for employment versus homemaking. It can be inferred that pregnancy can be seen as a mechanism for social control, as described in Haynes (2007).

Budig (2003) suggests that the negative correlation between women’s employment and fertility is well documented (see Cramer, 1980; Felmlee, 1993; and Hout, 1978) but the causal relationship is not clearly understood. The findings indicate that both pregnancy and the number of preschoolers in the family hinder non-employed women’s entrance to the work force, while pregnancy has no effect on employed women’s risk of exiting it. Budig’s results suggest that older children have the opposite effect; their presence encourages full-time employment. Finally, both part- and full-time employment reduce women’s risk of pregnancy; these results are consistent in racial and ethnic categories. While the element of social control due to pregnancy is evident, these papers do not address self-identity as a mechanism for social control; they only address the effect of work attitudes and timing of pregnancy.

Roberts (2000:71) addresses the idea of professional identity within the nursing profession. She suggests that, although there has been discussion about how the behaviour of those in oppressed groups is important for empowering nurses, little has been written about the process of liberation from oppression. One of the major factors that keeps oppressed people from becoming empowered is poor self- and group esteem and identity. The idea of creating self-identity is strongly supported by Haynes (2007) who describes the process as ‘embodiment’. This can be understood to be a mechanism for both social control and a form of self-expression and empowerment for women.

Haynes (2007: 343) found Bourdieu’s theory of social reproduction and physical capital to be helpful in interpreting women’s embodied experiences. She states that an understanding of social action as always being embodied is relevant. Bourdieu (1984) suggests that any embodied practice can only be understood diacritically; that is, in its relation to other practices in the same arena. His theory of ‘habitus’ is central to these points. Bourdieu (1977) defines habitus as a set of dispositions which generate practices and perceptions and identifies two kinds; class habitus and subjective habitus.


Reception from Other Researchers

Gallhofer (1998) presents the subject of gender within the accounting profession from the same perspective as the silences and omissions of class, race and culture. Although pregnancy and patriarchal arrangements are touched upon, Gallhofer notes that liberal feminist approaches to research fail to question patriarchal arrangements, even though they are a dominating factor in determining women’s self-identity. There is a criticism that liberal feminist research uses samples of women who adhere to conservative categories, such as ‘married’, ‘single’ or ‘married with children’. The views of single pregnant women or divorced women with children are often not included in studies (see Barker and Monks, 1995); thus ‘conservative values are reflected in those studies of the mainstream perspective which focus upon the “lifestyle preferences” of female accountants’ (Jaggar & Rothenberg, 1984:384).

Mainstream research tends to be Eurocentric and therefore considers accounting practices from a European perspective. As a result, there is the understanding that much of the research conducted considers Western, white, middle-class women. Poovey (1989) criticises the culturally insensitive Eurocentric approach of liberal feminist research. It developed in Britain during the Victorian area, taking into account aspects of the dominant culture of the time. It seems that most of the research is being conducted in strongly Eurocentric societies and there is, consequently, a cultural bias inherent within all research. Gallhofer (1998) suggests that this bias is, however, only part of a much larger problem and that cultural bias exists across feminist research generally rather than being specific to the liberal feminist approach.


The data presented by Haynes (2007:331) is drawn from a series of oral history narratives obtained from fifteen women in 2002 and 2003. Haynes (2004:15) describes ‘oral history’ as encapsulating various forms of in-depth life-history interviews, biographical interviews, and personal narratives. Reinharz (1992:130) argues that it differs from autobiography in terms of ‘the degree to which subjects control and shape the text’.

Haynes (2004:15) states that oral history has long been a methodological tool for historians (Vansina, 1985; Thompson, 1988) but has ‘rarely been used in the accounting context’. Collins and Bloom (1993:23) suggest that it could be used to ‘supplement and clarify the written record’ and verify other forms of history rather than as a methodology in its own right. However Haynes (2007:332) argues that it is appropriate to use oral histories as ‘for the women in my study, it is likely that no written or other form of record already exists which may be used to document their experiences’.

Carnegie and Napier (1996:29) specifically argue that ‘oral history’s greatest potential lies in its ability to capture the testimony of those effectively excluded from organisational archives’, and that it can ‘provide much insight into the effect of accounting on the managed and governed’. There is an implicit assumption here that the accounting profession renders some of its participants voiceless. Hammond and Sikka (1996:91) reinforce this point, suggesting that the main concern of the accounting profession in collecting oral history ‘has been to give visibility to the views of well-known accountants rather than to give voice to the people who have been excluded, oppressed and exploited in the onwards march of the institutions of accountancy’.

Jaggar (1983) identifies that women as a group are denied the same freedoms and opportunities that are attributed to men as a group. However, this approach fails to address the needs and wishes of individual women and, consequently, some strong criticism has been expressed in wider feminist literature. For example, Ramazanoglu (1989) states that ‘…the use of “we” has been criticised by women who felt that their own lives were not included in many feminist generalizations…’. Haynes’ (2007) approach differs from typical feminist research techniques which tend to apply broad perspectives onto narrow individual studies; thus it may appear that the ‘oral history’ technique has allowed Haynes to develop an unbiased, fair representation of women’s experiences.

The fifteen women interviewed represented an appropriate range for the purpose of the study, although Haynes notes that the research is not intended to form a representative group but to ‘explore and interpret the personal experience of being an accountant and a mother’. Haynes highlights the need for researchers to avoid making generalisations which are often common in feminist research. ‘Even with the same profiles and biographical similarities, there can be significant differences in meanings for people’ (Hockey & James, 2003).


Haynes (2007:346) concludes that ‘forms of embodiment can be seen simultaneously as a mechanism of social control and as a form of self-expression and empowerment for women’. She also concludes that ‘the body could be used as an opportunity for resistance to organisational legitimating of particular forms of gendered norms’. These conclusions are reached logically, following the results of her oral history research and other contributory academic articles. The response of women to identity change will depend on the dominant habitus. Given that organisations have been described as being masculine enterprises (Connell, 1995) the potential for self-estrangement and disembodiment for women is always present. Bourdieu (1977:78) states that ‘different modes of generation, that is by conditions of existence which, in imposing different definitions of the impossible, the possible, the improbable, cause one group to experience as natural or reasonable, practices or aspirations which another group finds unthinkable or scandalous and vice versa’.


The contribution of Haynes (2007) to scholarship in general and related literature in particular, is noticeable as the article appears to be a development of and collaborates with Haynes’ earlier work (2004), whereby similar material has been researched and similar methodology used. Haynes (2004) critically notes that ‘whilst the gendered nature of the accounting profession (Lehman,1992; Gallhofer,1998) and professional identities within the accounting profession (Grey, 1998: Ahrens and Chapman, 2000) had already been the subject of some debate, few studies consider the particular subjective experiences of women accountants, or explore the relationship between the institutions of accounting and the accounting experience of women in defining their sense of identity’. Similarly Haynes (2004:3) also identifies that motherhood, as an ‘emergent and politically contested identity’, has been researched from a sociological and psychological perspective but not from the perspective of the accounting profession.

Word Count: 1647 with references, 1554 without references




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