Accounting's Uses in Exploitative Human Engineering: Theorizing Citizenship, Indirect Rule and Britain's Imperial Expansion

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Abstract: This historical study starts from the argument that financial economic quantification using accounting concepts and analysis has always been an essential and integral part of effective policies and activities for Britain's empire building. Theories of citizenship are used in particular to examine the close association between accounting and imperial policies during British indirect rule in Fiji. Through an examination of archival data and other relevant source materials, the paper highlights the ways in which accounting helped translate imperial forms of oppression and injustice into everyday work practice. Indirect rule generally required the separation and subordination of the native population as subjects, and their exploitation within imperial hegemonic structures. This research is about a British regime of specific and deliberate power construct through which the indigenous population of subjects were oppressed and excluded from citizenship and from civil society. Focus is on the social, economic and institutional relations that determined a unique pattern of inequality and the way in which accounting was effectively mobilized to serve the aims of British imperialism through indirect rule.


"Citizenship would be a privilege of the civilised; the uncivilised would be subject to an all-round tutelage" [Mamdani, 1996, p.17].

"Subjects are always disproportionately placed in opposition or domination through the systemic decentring of multiple power relations which play the role of support as well as target or adversary" [Bhabha, 1994, p.72].

Accounting and financial management techniques, computations and practices have been both implicated and directly used in political systems that promote unjust, inhumane, oppressive and racist policies [Davie, 2000, 2005; Fleischman and Tyson, 2000, 2004; Jacobs, 2000; Funnell, 2000; Neu, 2000a, 2000b; Achary, 1996]. This study makes a further contribution by examining the significant role of accounting in the implementation of British imperial policies relating to the subjectification of the Native population in the peripheries. It provides new insights into accounting's regulatory role in the production of a quantified and imperialistic knowledge about British imperial rule. An examination of British expansion into Fiji (1) in the late 19th century shows that accounting computations were an integral part of indirect rule. Indirect rule was a colonial project that translated an indigenous form of social stratification into an administrative system for the domination of Native peoples. It was a tribal approach to imperial government that dispersed customary laws within "the wider context of alien domination" [Mamdani, 1996, p.110]. Indirect rule enabled exploitation of the moral discipline, trust and respect associated with clan-based communal social structures for despotic purposes. It also enabled human engineering for exploitative development of labor as an economic resource. Insofar as the Native policy decisions were sustained indirect rule gave a pre-eminent position to accounting. The archival material related here reveals that accounting had multiple functions in this project. Accounting and budgeting were not only essential to highlighting the financial status of the colony. They were also used by the British colonial officials and European plantation owners to help prosecute a particular privileged form of citizenship which gave pre-eminence to Europeans and their exploitative interests.

Collaborative themes of indirect rule have recently been used in accounting research studies. For example, Davie [2000] applied these themes to widen the compass of accounting history to examine the interests that accounting calculations and explanations served in imperial forms of rapprochement. However, the concern of that research was not citizenship. Annisette [2000] also used imperial collaborative themes to study the accountancy profession in Trinidad and Tobago. …