Revisiting Callon's Singular Statements: is public management knowledge performative?
Oz Gore (University of Leicester)
Paper short abstract:
This paper revisits Callon's reliance on the semiotic emphasis on Singular Existential Statements to ask about the 'scientificality' of management accounting, and by consequence the performativty of economic knowledge in the public sector.
Paper long abstract:
The view that economic knowledge is performative has taken root in the social sciences. This paper takes as its starting point that the professions to which this has been applied to differentiate based on the type of knowledge-claims they draw on. This becomes apparent when considering Callon's own dependence on the semiotic distinction between Singular Existential Statements (SES) and General Statements (GS). As posited by Callon, "science cannot exist without the possibility of formulating statements that describe singular events localized in time and space" (Callon, 2006, p. 318). It is this reliance on SES - knowledge-claims that are indexical, explicitly referring to a particular circumstance - which grants the latter with their performative affordances. Furthermore, it is the recognition that economics is producing SESs which makes it a viable domain for application. With the dominance of management accounting in the modernised public sector, we ask: what should we make of cases where knowledge-claims, models, and techniques provided by a discipline do not constitute SESs? How should we think the performativity of models where such indexicality has been problematised? Building on critiques of accounting theory and practice and of economic forecasting, we revisit Callon's distinction and reflect on the 'scientificality' of management accounting. Doing so helps address the sort of economic performativity that happens (or not) in contemporary public management and its possible distinction from that which happens in markets.
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