Public health interventions in English local authorities: constructing the facts, (re)imagining the future

James Brackley, Penelope Tuck, Mark Exworthy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Purpose: This paper examines the contested value of healthy life and wellbeing in a context of severe austerity, exploring how the value of “Public Health” is constructed through and with material-discursive practices and accounting representations. It seeks to explore the political and ethical implications of constructing the valuable through a shared consensus over the “facts” when addressing complex, multi-agency problems with long time horizons and outcomes that are not always easily quantifiable. Design/methodology/approach: The theorisation, drawing on science and technology studies (STS) scholars and Karen Barad's (2007) agential realism, opens up the analysis to the performativity of both material and discursive practices in the period following a major re-organisation of activity. The study investigates two case authorities in England and the national regulator through interviews, observations and documentary analysis. Findings: The paper demonstrates the deeply ethical and political entanglements of accounting representations as objectivity, consensus and collective action are constructed and resisted in practice. It goes on to demonstrate the practical challenges of constructing “alternative accounts” and “intelligent accountabilities” through times of austerity towards a shared sense of public value and suggests austerity measures make such aims both more challenging and all the more essential. Originality/value: Few studies in the accounting literature have explored the full complexity of valuation practices in non-market settings, particularly in a public sector context; this paper, therefore, extends familiar conceptual vocabulary of STS inspired research to further explore how value(s), ethics and identity all play a crucial role in making things valuable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1664-1691
Number of pages28
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number7
Early online date26 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2021


  • Performativity
  • Public health
  • Public interest
  • Publicness
  • STS
  • Value

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)


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