Ideas made real: how a mediating instrument governs by enacting logics in practice
Dunn, James McAlastair
This thesis explores how symbolic ideas embedded in an accounting instrument come to be enacted in practice: detailing the processes through which they are realised by actors. It draws on theories of governmentality and the institutional logics perspective to develop a holistic theorisation of how programmes, ideas or ‘logics’ come to be enacted in practice as individuals interact with a performance appraisal process. It seeks to develop a theorised narrative that unpicks the various realities which actors construct in a particular assemblage. The story is informed by an abductive case study of one branch of John Lewis Department Stores. It develops a model which details the factors which influence the effective performativity of the accounting instrument. As such it explores how governance occurs as non-local ideas are prescribed to, and then enacted in, a local domain. The model describes how actors interact with a ‘mediating instrument’ and thereby constitute multiple realities based on three moderating factors: underlying ties to existing logics, self-interest and others’ influence. In outlining these moderating factors the thesis also highlights that multiple logics are more likely to be enacted when they are added or merged to existing sense making, in comparison to when they are framed or reframed according to those existing framings. As such it contributes to governmentality by detailing the process of governing and unpacking the factors which influence whether a mediating instrument is effectively performative. Additionally it contributes to institutional theory by providing a more nuanced understanding of how the symbolic elements of logics come to be enacted in practice through interactions with such material artefacts and how actors come to recognise the legitimacy of alternatives.