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Theoretical perspectives on accounting for labor on slave plantations of the USA and British West Indies

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Thomas Tyson, Professor Richard Fleischman, Professor David McCollum-Oldroyd


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The paper focuses on accounting for slave workers during one of the most morally culpable periods in Western civilisation and is concerned with issues central to labour – modes of production, labour control, and labour productivity. It incorporates secondary sources and our examination of records from over 150 different U.S. and BWI plantations to identify contextual factors that motivated planters to organise their work force in a particular way. The paper specifically describes the ganging and tasking methods of extracting surplus value and indicates how these methods fit within three common paradigmatic interpretations of accounting history – labour process, power/knowledge/discipline, and economic rationalism. In summary, ganging exemplified a pre-modern approach to organising labour in which planters relied primarily on physical power to compel work effort and increase output. Tasking incorporated individual work rates and included more sophisticated practices of surveillance, measurement, normalisation, and socialisation. Tasking became economically rational by responding to changing market conditions and by incorporating procedures and incentives to spur greater productivity. Therefore, tasking may be perceived as a thematic precursor to accounting-based disciplinary controls like standard costing and a transitionary element from pre-modern to modern control systems.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Tyson T, Fleischman RK, Oldroyd D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

Year: 2004

Volume: 17

Issue: 5

Pages: 758-778

ISSN (print): 1368-0668

ISSN (electronic): 1758-4205

Publisher: Emerald Group Publishing Ltd.


DOI: 10.1108/09513570410567809


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