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    Identity Narratives Under Threat: A Study of Former Members...
    research summary posted May 4, 2012 by The Auditing Section, last edited May 25, 2012, tagged 09.0 Auditor Judgment, 09.10 Prior Dispositions/Biases/Auditor state of mind 
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    Title:
    Identity Narratives Under Threat: A Study of Former Members of Arthur Andersen
    Practical Implications:

    Relying exclusively on official statements and documents may prevent one from accessing backstage behavior and representations. 
    In private interviews people may disclose information that differs from the formal representations they appear to support in more formal environments.

    Citation:

    Gendron, Y. and L. F. Spira. 2010. Identity narratives under threat: A study of former members of Arthur Andersen. Accounting, Organizations and Society 35: 275-300.

    Keywords:
    Organizational identity, professional identity, Arthur Andersen, professional failure
    Purpose of the Study:

    This study examines the processes by which individuals work their sense of organizational and professional identity in the aftermath of a professional failure.  Identity work comprises processes by which individuals reflectively seek to maintain or revise their sense of identification with an organization and profession, along with developing self-understandings regarding causes and consequences ensuing from significant events which threaten ones beliefs, interpretive schemes and perception of the self.  

    In this study the authors conducted interviews with former partners and employees of Arthur Andersen (AA) and addressed four research questions in this study, including:

    • How do former members of AA conceptualize the collapse of their firm and the underlying reasons?
    • How do former members engage in identity work in response to the firm’s collapse?
    • To what extent is their sense of identity with the AA organization and with the public accounting profession questioned as a result of their sense-making endeavor?
    • How can one continue to work in public accounting when his/her identity work implies significant doubt regarding peer trustworthiness and skepticism regarding the future of the profession?
    Design/Method/ Approach:

    Semi-structured interviews were conducted with twenty-five former partners and employees of AA, mostly in Canada and the UK.  The interviews focused on four main themes including: AA’s organizational background; underlying reasons and consequences of the firm’s debacle; post-Enron regulatory initiatives; and the impact of the collapse on the interviewee’s viewpoint regarding control mechanisms in accounting firms, peer trustworthiness, and the notion of the “profession”. The interviews were conducted in 2004.

    Findings:
    • Overall, the results of this study indicate that interviewees engaged extensively in processes of identity work and sense-making in trying to deal with the negative representation of the firm that resulted in the mass media after the collapse of AA.
    • The following key identity work patterns emerged during the interviews of the former members of AA:
    • Disillusion – questioning of the individual’s sense of organizational and public accountant identity
    • Resentfulness – questioning one’s sense of public accountant identity as significant doubt is cast on peer trustworthiness and the future of the profession.
    • Rationalization – characterized by consciously attempting to detach the self from the flow of emotions surrounding the firm’s collapse, in order to develop what is viewed as a form of rational understanding.
    • Hopefulness – expressing confidence regarding the future of public accounting.
    Category:
    Auditor Judgment
    Sub-category:
    Prior Dispositions/Biases/Auditor state of mind
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