Doctor of Philosophy
School of Accounting, Economics and Finance
Purpose: This thesis contributes to the research on critical accounting information systems (AISs) by highlighting their social implications. It sheds light on the ways in which the capitalist logic embedded in AISs interacts with the institutional logics prevalent in the context of Saudi Arabia. Two AISs – Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and loyalty programs (LPs) – employed by two different retail organisations have been examined. Studying both systems provides an understanding of how the capitalist logic interacts with the socio-religious values and beliefs at the organisational and individual levels.
First, ERP systems are a carrier of the capitalist logic embodied in the best accounting practices; the promises by which Saudi retailers follow the ‘best’ ways in which global retailers practice accounting. However, when implementing ERP systems in a context where the socioreligious beliefs and values permeate its socio-economic structures, these promises are exposed. This thesis highlights the social implications – at the organisational level – where the capitalist logic marginalises and excludes socio-religious values and beliefs. Second, LPs are Big Data extractive apparatuses that enable retailers to practice surveillance capitalism, which controls customers by collecting their behavioural data with the aim of influencing their choices in a way that increases profits. To achieve this, LPs use accounting techniques that are intertwined with socio-religious values and beliefs to lure customers and lock them into a cycle of commitment to participate in LPs. This thesis highlights the social implications – at the individual level – at which the capitalist logic exploits socio-religious values and beliefs to infiltrate customers’ everyday lives.
Design/methodology/approach: This thesis utilises an institutional-logics approach to highlight the social role of accounting in the production and reproduction of shared meaning structures. This thesis focuses on the critical potentials of this approach and develops three interrelated situations in which the manifestations of power and dominance of the capitalist logic are revealed. First, the capitalist logic dominates the context in which it subjugates, delegitimises, or exploits the religious logic. Second, the capitalist logic serves as a frame of reference that imposes normative behaviour and practices on individuals and organisations. Finally, the capitalist logic provides powerful actors with essential resources to exercise power. This thesis employs a qualitative case-study approach to gain rich and contextual accounts of the impact of AISs on the daily practices of organisations and individuals. This thesis employed the methods of semi-structured interviews, observations, and publicly available data to examine the implementation of ERP systems. In addition, this thesis used three interrelated methods to collect data in order to examine the employment of LPs: collecting publicly available data from the company’s website, taking notes of the LP’s technological functions and design, and using netnography method to gather online customers’ comments.
Findings: The study of ERP reveals that the implementation of best accounting practices has made the religious logic confront the capitalist logic that acts as a frame of reference involving rules, values, and beliefs of standardisation. This confrontation is related to the concepts of sacred time (the Hijri calendar), which constantly revives a sacred Islamic event (the migration of the Prophet Muhammad) that contributed to the existence of the Islamic nation. Thus, local accounting practices in this context become ritualistic and reinforce notions of social unity. The study found that the regulatory logic supports and sustains the religious logic. The laws and regulations of Saudi Arabia stipulate that the activities of government and educational institutions should follow the Hijri calendar, including in their economic transactions with retail organisations. However, the best accounting practices of ERP systems are based on the Gregorian calendar. This puts pressure on the organisation when recording economic transactions directly into the ERP systems. As a result, organisations employ alternative systems to calculate these transactions. However, in the absence of this regulatory support, the capitalist logic destroys and marginalises the religious logic by eliminating local accounting practices. This study also found that the capitalist logic of ERP systems reinforces the concepts of hierarchy, as accountants at a lower level should be visible to those above them.
Meanwhile, the study of LPs reveals that the capitalist logic is legitimised by the religious logic. Customers are lured to engage in LPs through economic, social, and religious discourses and relevant institutional vocabularies to create an emotional and rational connection. LPs incorporate religious concepts that affirm that they are halal (not haram) and ethical. For example, the organisation stresses that its LP is free from the religious prohibitions associated with riba (usury), gharar (ignorance), gambling, and deceit. This LP also involves socioreligious initiatives to promote the social cohesion by providing aid to needy community groups. Economically, this LP involves accounting techniques that guarantee customers a decent return (2% savings). However, these techniques intertwine with contract concepts to lock customers into a cycle of commitment to use the LP continuously. This commitment is accompanied by a violation of freedom and privacy, as customers are forced to provide their personal information, such as their full name, date of birth, home address, nationality, national identity ID, personal status, occupation, language, and contact numbers. This information is in addition to the accumulation of data about customers with each purchase to acquire new insights into their future behaviour that is reproduced through targeted advertising.
Originality: This thesis addresses the call by Burchell et al. (1985), Burchell et al. (1980), Hopwood (1983, 2005), and Walker (2016) to bring society back to the critical discussion of accounting issues. This thesis suggests that accounting has contradictory social positions. Although accounting practices embody the religious logic in the Saudi context as a tool for rationalising economic decisions, they embody the capitalist logic in a narrow way for promoting profit goals. This thesis employs two examples of AISs to discuss this contradiction at the organisational and individual levels. It discusses sacred time concepts practiced by ERP systems excluded in the pursuit of standardisation. This thesis also discusses socio-religious concepts exploited to lure customers and lock them into a cycle of commitment to feed the Big Data extractive apparatus.
Alharthi, Amal Mesheal, Institutional Logics of Enterprise Resource Planning and Big Data Systems: Two Case Studies from Saudi Arabia, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, School of Accounting, Economics and Finance, University of Wollongong, 2022. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses1/1568
FoR codes (2008)
150199 Accounting, Auditing and Accountability not elsewhere classified
This thesis is unavailable until Wednesday, May 15, 2024
Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.