Tax Credits as an accounting technology of government: “Showing my boys they have to work, because that is what happens”

Sara Closs-Davies, Doris Merkl-Davies, Koen Bartels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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with UK Tax Credits and their impact on claimants’ motivations, behaviour, and identities. Our aim is to deepen empirical and conceptual understandings of how ATGs of tax authorities transform claimants into ‘entrepreneurs of the self’.

Design/methodology/approach – We approach Tax Credits as a case study to examine how ATGs articulate and operationalise neoliberal ideology through a complex network of inscription devices, expertise and locales. We adopt an ethnographic approach based on interviews, archival data, and fieldnotes to gain a deep understanding of citizens’ lived experiences of ATGs when claiming Tax Credits.

Findings – We find that ATGs play a key role in transforming Tax Credits claimants into selfdisciplined ‘citizen-subjects’ whose decisions are informed by market logic. When claiming Tax Credits, citizens interact with ATGs and are transformed into ‘entrepreneurs of the self” who internalise neoliberal ideology and associated beliefs and assumptions of poverty, work, and the welfare state. In this process of subjectification, ATGs (re)construct their identities from welfare recipients to ‘responsible’ and ‘accountable’ hardworking individuals and families. However, ATGs perversely disempower claimants who lack the required human capital for becoming responsible for their own welfare and thus ultimately maintain socioeconomic inequality.

Research limitations/implications - Participants were drawn from a relatively narrow geographic area.

Practical and social implications – We reveal how accounting as a technology of government (dis)empowers individuals vis-à-vis the State and spurs inequality dependent on personal circumstances and calculative skills.

Originality/value – We contribute to the accounting literature by showing how neoliberal ideology is articulated, operationalised and reinforced by dynamic and repetitive interactions with ATGs of the UK Tax Credits scheme. We deepen understanding of the processes through which socially and economically disadvantaged individuals are transformed into selfgoverning economic agents responsible for their own welfare.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages27
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Early online date28 Jan 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Jan 2021


  • Tax Credits
  • Accounting Technologies
  • Neoliberalism
  • Governmentality
  • Subjectification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Public Administration


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