A Genealogy of Myths About the Rationality of Accounting in the West and in the East
33 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2014
Date Written: November 27, 2013
Goody (1996: The East in the West) contests the arguments of Weber and others that Western accounting developments — and in particular double-entry bookkeeping ('DEB') which first appeared in Italy around the end of the 13th century AD — provided a new calculative rationality that drove the economic transformations of early capitalism. Recently Gleeson-White’s (2012) best selling Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance attempts to re-establish the myth while a further variation on this theme appears in Padgett and Powell’s (2012) The Emergence of Organizations and Markets. Here we explore how arguments relating to the form of DEB are frequently confused with arguments about its content — and how historically differing modes of its actual use have been treated as 'the same' — and why the various claims for its crucial significance in focusing economic rationality continually re-emerge. We suggest that the wider issues can now more fruitfully be debated in the broader context of parallels and contrasts with the development of the economy in late Imperial China and of its bookkeeping and accounting systems. We explore how the myth of an indigenous 'Chinese double-entry bookkeeping' ('CDEB') appears to have emerged as a counterweight to the power of the perceived rationality of Western DEB.
Keywords: Double-entry bookkeeping, China, myths, economic rationality
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