An ethnographic study of front-line audit work in China

Zou, Yanru (2020) An ethnographic study of front-line audit work in China. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis cares about the front-line auditors who work day and night during an audit season in China and pays attention to their work experience. I explore how audit work is carried out in practices, what norms are embedded in different ways of doing the work, and how these relate to the shaping of auditor identity. Based on a ten-month period of fieldwork in Dalian and Beijing, I write about my encounters and engagements with the auditors I met in the field and aim to amplify their voices and knowledge of how audit work is done and what it means to be a front-line auditor.

Schatzki’s practice theory underpins this research as the ontological framework. Within this framework, audit work is perceived as being constituted and reconstituted by practices, and my fieldwork attention was paid to the sayings and doings of front-line auditors in real audit sites. I develop the notion of praxiography as the methodology of the research and use it to discover the norms of the work and an embodied understanding of how to practise as an auditor. My fieldwork practices are intertwined with my learning of being a proper audit junior in an audit team. Thereby, the writing of this thesis is shaped by an auto-ethnographic reflection of my experience of learning to be an auditor in the field.

By examining how time demands are generated through different practices, I confirm working beyond normal office hours as the norm in doing the audit work. Further, I explore the influences of these practices on auditors’ physical and emotional bodies, the boundary between professional and family life, and auditors’ understanding of what constitutes the right things to do in audit work. Auditors who are “too lively”, ask “too many questions”, dare to challenge the leader in a public manner, are not “obedient enough” to follow the template of the audit working sheet, or interrupt the normal pace of the audit work schedules are marginalised in the audit work and regarded as questionable non-fitters. Auditors who have successfully passed the test of time are transformed and disciplined to the norms of the work. This reveals segregation and vulnerability within the hierarchical order of the professionals in accounting firms and that junior accountants feel a sense of displacement.

I discuss the revealed vulnerabilities within the practices of front-line auditors. I show a true embodied understanding of vulnerability in daily audit work has a critical potential in doing audit work differently. I explore the practice of presence, particularly within the being of a female partner working inside the audit team and reflect on how the practice of presence facilitates mutual recognition and empathy within audit work.

By giving voices to front-line auditors, I reflect how different practices of audit work influence auditor’s wellbeing at work. This thesis makes a methodological contribution to accounting literature by illustrating the practices of doing practice-theory-based research in audit work. It also contributes to accounting literature by extending the notion of time in audit work from a performance management technology to a notion of “being” and experiencing, highlighting the embodied knowledge and affects in audit work, and discussing the critical potential of embodied affects in audit work practices.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: practice theory, praxiography, auto-ethnography, embodiment, norms and vulnerability in audit work, critical potential of affects in audit work.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School > Accounting and Finance
Supervisor's Name: Stoner, Professor Greg and Favotto, Dr. Alvise
Date of Award: 2020
Depositing User: Yanru Zou
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-80286
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 24 Mar 2020 09:13
Last Modified: 18 Sep 2023 15:59
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.80286

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