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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Erica Pimentel, Accountancy

Making the Best of It: Three Essays on Overcoming Challenges in the Public Accounting Profession

Date & time
Monday, May 17, 2021 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


This dissertation reports on three essays relating to challenges public accountants face in exercising their profession. These essays explore how public accountants sensemake about these challenges and reframe (or not) their vision of the value their occupation provides. The first chapter draws on Alasdair MacIntyre’s virtue ethics framework and narrative interviews with twenty Tunisian auditors to understand how they make sense of ethical challenges in a context where transnational norms for the profession are at odds with the local customs. In this context, auditors adapt their purpose within the profession to serve a telos that is congruent with their moral tradition. The second article leverages a qualitative field study into the blockchain specialty practice of a large accounting firm to study the practices auditors deploy when expanding into the blockchain field. This chapter explores the role of Bourdieu’s master concept of habitus in guiding auditors’ approach to and understanding of the terrain they seek to conquer. Without shared habitus, auditors and blockchainers fail to agree on which types of assurance are needed in the blockchain ecosystem, how assurance should be communicated, and who should be providing it. Ultimately, this study sheds light on how auditors can establish a lasting presence in settings where technological innovation is prevalent. The final chapter draws on 31 semi-structured interviews with public accountants carried out during the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. It suggests that accountants can experience a sense of freedom when they are given choices that appeal to their value set, which, in this case, is their desire to make rational choices that maximize their human capital value. Choice itself becomes a technique of governmentality because employers control the array of available choices, or the choice architecture, and the information used to evaluate those choices. Altogether, these three studies dig into settings where practicing the profession is difficult – and shed light on how accountants as a profession and as individuals can overcome these obstacles.

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