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The accounting history of the English brewing industry 1700-1939: an exploration of Foucauldian disciplinarity

By Philip A. Talbot


The English brewing trade continues to be of social and economic significance having played an important cultural role well into the 21st century. It was, albeit it in 18th century London, initially at the forefront of the British Industrial Revolution. This required unprecedented levels of capital investment to finance the porter breweries that proved highly profitable and created long lasting brewing family dynasties such as Whitbread. This pattern was replicated in provincial 19th century England supported by an effective transport infrastructure, which led to the formation of national companies such as Bass Ratcliffe and Gretton at Burton upon Trent Staffordshire. Although the brewing sector has been covered in several trade and individual brewing company narrative histories the role of brewery management and particularly the role of accounting in the management process has remained a `mystery' (Gourvish and Wilson 1994: 397). The brewery accounting agenda has also been absent from the accounting history debates without any substantive academic work having been devoted to this important industry.\ud The thesis has been constructed within a disciplinary framework, which has been derived from the work of the French philosopher and historian of thought Michel Foucault (1977), and developed further by the leading Foucauldian accounting historians Hoskin (1993), Hoskin and Macve (1986) and Loft (1986). Modern discipline is perceived as a duality of knowledge and power, which is exercised through disciplinary processes whereby performance and behaviour is conditioned by strategies of power. This becomes an omnipresent web of power relations which are the micro-physics of power within which Foucauldian accounting historians include the accounting discipline. This disciplinary approach is used here to explore accounting as an historical process in the English brewing industry from 1700 until 1939 as a management tool in the decision making process.\ud Arguably this disciplinary approach will provide a body of historical accounting knowledge where none currently exists and also examine the robustness of the Foucauldian paradigm within this particular industrial context. It will be shown that this approach unsuccessfully explains accountings role within the English brewing industry between 1700 and 1939

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