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Problematizing profit and profitability

Special issue call for papers from Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

Guest Editors

Alan Lowe, RMIT University, Australia
Alex Preda, King’s College London, United Kingdom
Yesh Nama, RMIT University, Australia

About the special issue

  • What is ‘profit’?
  • What is ‘profitability’?

These are important questions and concepts not only for accounting, but for the social sciences in general.  However, these questions are significantly under‐investigated from non‐technical perspective.  We call for box-breaking research (Alvesson & Sandberg, 2014) focussed on the problematization (Callon, 1986) of these deceptively simple terms. We also strongly believe that intensive investigation and examination of the complications surrounding these terms and concepts in various social ‘sites’ (Schatzki, 2002) is needed.  We call for new directions and/or conceptualisations of ‘profit’ and ‘profitability’. 
We are experiencing times when the boundaries between the public and private sector seem to blur more and more, and have prompted a “…seemingly unceasing rise of commercial values” [for instance in academic sector (Carnegie & Tuck, 2010, p. 431; see also: Parker, 2013)].  Given these movements toward the fetishisation of profit, it is timely to examine and debate the various modes of ‘making profit’, with respect to its legitimacy, its various formats and techniques, but also with respect to the social constituencies, interests, and projects with respect to which profit and profitability appear as desirable. 
Some of the potential questions / focus areas may include:

  • What does it mean for an economic and/or organizational actor or activity to be profitable?
  • How is profit defined with respect to consistency, social status, or social position of an actor?
  • How much is an appropriate amount of profit with respect to social status and position?
  • How are profitability and non‐profitability justified and accounted for?
  • What are the modes of calculation for establishing profitability and how are such modes of calculation evaluated against each other and justified?
  • How are distinctions made and boundaries set for profitability?  This is an important area to be explored as not all activities are expected to be profitable (for e.g., charitable activities – where people allocate resources but not expect imminent or direct benefits). 

Yet the boundaries are moved nowadays.  The boundaries of profitability may have a historical and cultural dimension specific to certain social ‘sites’.  Hence, exploring the boundaries of profitability would allow us to make useful contribution to the literature. 
While scholars have problematized the concepts of value, valuation, and valorization and have explored the various modes of (e)valuation (Chenhall, Hall, & Smith, 2013; Helgesson & Muniesa, 2013; Lamont, 2012), much needs to be done in order to broaden the reflection on profit and profitability beyond a strictly technical discussion.  This would be an encouragement to think beyond the perceived margins of accounting (Miller, 1998) especially when, perhaps counter-intuitively, it has been documented that there is “…a constant decrease in the role of financial information in investors’ decisions…” (Lev & Gu, 2016, p. 8). 

Submissions for the issue


Alvesson, M., & Sandberg, J. (2014). Habitat and Habitus: Boxed-in versus Box-Breaking Research. Organization Studies, 35, 967-987.
Callon, M. (1986). Some elements of a sociology of translation: domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St Brieuc Bay. In J. Law (Ed.), Power, action and belief: a new sociology of knowledge? (pp. 196-223). London (United Kingdom): Routledge.
Carnegie, G. D., & Tuck, J. (2010). Understanding the ABC of University Governance. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 69, 431-441.
Chenhall, R. H., Hall, M., & Smith, D. (2013). Performance measurement, modes of evaluation and the development of compromising accounts. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 38, 268-287.
Helgesson, C.-F., & Muniesa, F. (2013). For what it’s worth: An introduction to valuation studies. Valuation Studies, 1, 1-10.
Lamont, M. (2012). Toward a Comparative Sociology of Valuation and Evaluation. Annual Review of Sociology, 38, 201-221.
Lev, B., & Gu, F. (2016). The End of Accounting and the Path Forward for Investors and Managers. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
Miller, P. (1998). The margins of accounting. European Accounting Review, 7, 605-621.
Schatzki, T. (2002). The Site of the Social: A Philosophical Account of the Constitution of Social Life and Change. Pennsylvania: Penn State Press.