Neoliberalism and accounting in everyday relational practices

Electronic versions


    Research areas

  • PhD, Bangor Business School, tax credits, critical accounting, accounting technologies, neoliberal discourse, critical interpretive analysis, ethnography, relational power, public services


The UK tax credits (TC) system is designed to encourage low-income individuals and families with children to work, alleviate their financial hardship and improve socio-economic equality. This study shows, in practice, its accounting mechanisms prove ill-equipped to engage with the ‘lived reality’ of TC workers and claimants rendering it dysfunctional in achieving its aims. I conduct a critical interpretive analysis of accounting mechanisms and everyday practices within the TC system by combining several theoretical and methodological approaches. First, I draw on accounting literature (Miller and Rose, 2008), social theory (Foucault, 1979; Bourdieu, 1984; Latour, 1987; Cottingham, 2016) and street-level bureaucracy theories from public administration literature (Lipsky, 1980; Bovens & Zouridis, 2002) to understand the role and implications of accounting as a technology of governance that act through a social-network across multiple socio-political contexts. Second, I use ethnographic and grounded theory methods to explore real-life experiences and encounters between TC claimants and HMRC TC workers. My findings suggest the TC system operates through accounting mechanisms and everyday practices grounded in neoliberal discourse, which perversely create overpayments and significant financial and existential hardship for claimants. I argue accounting mechanisms reshape the everyday practices and roles of TC workers which drastically impact on the lives of claimants. I further argue the TC system functions as a neoliberal system of governance which facilitate and aligns the minds and bodies of claimants according to neoliberal discourse, reinforcing political stigmatisation of claimants and socio-economic inequality. My study appeals to policy-makers and politicians to foster relational, holistic and humane approaches to the administration of TC and welfare policies. This would help deliver public services that foster deep relationships between public services front line workers and citizens to enable them to engage and tackle complex issues, improving their experiences, whilst also making public service more effective at alleviating poverty and improving social inequality.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Thesis sponsors
  • Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlathol
Award date3 Jun 2019