Between Maxwell and Micawber: Plotting the failure of the Equitable Life

David Collins, Ian Dewing, Peter Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

This paper offers reflections on the failure of The Equitable Life Assurance Society. Noting that the collapse of this financial institution precipitated a raft of official inquiries, we provide a detailed analysis and ‘re-view’ of the public inquiry report that was produced by Lord Penrose. The paper observes that Lord Penrose's text presents itself as a factual description of events. Yet we counter that this report remains, at root, a creative product which depends upon narrative strategies of characterisation and emplotment. Analysing the narrative resources and the broader narratological choices that underpin Lord Penrose's account of the Equitable affair, we suggest that this report turns upon a Maxwellian rendering of the drama's key protagonist. Questioning the assumptions, omissions and elisions which underpin this method of plotting the failure of the Equitable, we propose another means of characterising the drama's principal. Building upon a reading of David Copperfield, we proffer a Micawberish alternative to the Maxwellian autocrat favoured by Lord Penrose's text. Readers are invited to consider the relative merits of these contrasting narratives and are, furthermore, encouraged to reflect upon the manner in which the interplay between text, author and reader acts to shape public understanding of accounting, accountability and financial regulation more broadly.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)715-737
Number of pages23
JournalAccounting and Business Research
Volume45
Issue number6-7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes

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