JUDGEMENT DEVICES AND THE EVALUATION OF SINGULARITIES: THE USE OF PERFORMANCE RATINGS AND NARRATIVE INFORMATION TO GUIDE FILM VIEWER CHOICE Introduction
“…Accounting is not automatically imbued with a public significance. That significance has to be created, shaped, sustained and managed, and this involves a vast array of other cultural and social practices. Architectural, artistic, culinary, ceremonial and many other everyday practices of the world in which we live are involved in creating the conception of accounting as we know it… As accounting becomes more influential in everyday affairs, it is important for us to have a greater insight into the processes through which that influence is created and sustained. The tethering of accounting to the realm of the everyday becomes a significant area for study” (Hopwood, 1994, pp.300-301).
Since Hopwood’s (1994) call for a greater exploration of issues relating to accounting in everyday life, a number of studies have highlighted the pervasive nature of accounting within popular culture. These papers have tended to take one of two forms. Firstly, several studies have focused on how accounting and accountants are characterized within popular culture. For example, Beard (1994) and Dimnik and Felton (2006) examined the portrayal of accountants in films; Bougen (1994) and Miley and Read (2012) considered how accountants are characterized in jokes; and Smith and Jacobs (2011) and Jacobs and Evans (2012) explored issues relating to the characterization of accounting and accountants in popular music. Secondly, other studies have focused more on accounting’s influence on various aspects of popular culture in domains as diverse as cinema (Jeacle, 2009), sport (see for example, Andon and Free, 2012; Andon et al., 2014; Cooper and Joyce, 2013), furniture design (Jeacle, 2005), fashion (see for example, Jeacle and Carter, 2012; Jeacle, 2015; Neu et al., 2014) and the use of social media (Jeacle and Carter, 2011; Scott and Orlikowski, 2012). Our paper, by investigating the use of performance ratings and judgement devices in making choices about which film to see, falls into this second category.
Despite the attention that the topic of ‘accounting and popular culture’ has received in the accounting literature, relatively few studies have focused specifically on the interplay between management accounting information and tools, and popular culture. Our study aims to address this gap by focusing on how a particular aspect of management accounting information - namely, ratings and narrative reviews pertaining to quality - influence popular culture choices. Specifically, our focus is on how management accounting information is used to evaluate singularities. The term ‘singularities’ is used by Karpik (2010) to describe everyday goods and services that are unique, multidimensional, incommensurable, and uncertain.1 Karpik (2010) uses films, literature, artworks, and fine wines as examples of singularities. In this study, we focus on one such example of a singularity, namely films, and we examine how filmgoers use what Karpik (2010) describes as different judgement devices (which include rankings, and information in narrative form, such as user and critic reviews) to help them ascribe a value to a particular film, and in so doing, choose which film they see. While our focus within this study is, as noted, on films, we also build on accounting literature examining the use of social media (see for example, Jeacle and Carter, 2011; Scott and Orlikowski, 2012) by considering the role of the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) as an example of a social phonemenon that provides multiple judgement devices used to evaluate singularities. Specifically, we examine the following research question: how are performance ratings and narrative information implicated in the value individuals ascribe to singularities?
Our paper contributes to the literature in three main ways. First, we consider how management accounting information is used to evaluate and ascribe a value to singularities. We are not aware of any prior accounting research that has considered this issue. We propose that the nature of singularities, as described by Karpik (2010), influences the way performance is understood, deliberated on, and shaped by judgement devices. Second, we consider how users of singularities (in our context, filmgoers) deal with conflicting information about a film’s quality from a particular judgement device, (such as, in our context, conflicting IMDb user reviews, or when critics’ reviews vary), or when there is conflict between judgement devices, (such as when critics’ reviews present differing opinions to IMDb ratings). Third, we consider the role of management accounting in two popular culture domains – films and social media – in a single study, and in so doing, we explore the interplay between management accounting information and these two aspects of popular culture. In doing so, our paper explores a particular instance where accounting plays a role in shaping diverse social outcomes in relation to popular culture (in this case, the unpredictable and varying film choices of individuals), and how it becomes constitutive of the core functioning of innovative social phenomena (in this case, IMDb) so as to direct and somehow provide semblance of order to these social outcomes and the derivation of them (c.f. Jeacle and Carter, 2011). We see our approach as being consistent with that proposed by Jeacle and Carter (2011: 307) insofar as our starting point is the social phenomenon itself, IMDb, and we seek to untangle “the accounting angle which informs its operation … [and thereby] discover a new means of connecting accounting with the social in new and innovative ways.”
The remainder of this paper is organised as follows. The next section provides a review of the relevant literature. The third section discusses the research method, while the fourth discusses our context. The fiftth section reports on our findings. The sixth section discusses the implications of these findings, and concludes the paper.