|dc.description.abstracten||In this paper, based on an ethnographic study, we show how management controllers
craft their jobs through their daily practice and try to stretch their occupational identity. We
adopt an original posture, developing a ‘negative ontology’ of practice, identity at work and
professional competition. We argue that studying what individuals hide or despise in their
daily activities enriches our understanding of both identity at work and power relationships.
The underlying argument is that values and concepts such as identity and power materialise
through interactions and practices. These practices include any activities that make
individuals proud, but also a wide range of activities they despise and try to delegate, manage,
and reduce—what Everett Hughes refers to as their dirty work.
We develop this analysis through the study of the management controllers of TechCo, a
medium-sized French industrial firm in the aeronautics industry. In particular, we demonstrate
that, within a given occupational group, several individual trajectories and strategies emerge.
Although all management controllers try to avoid or delegate what they consider to be dirty
work, they have differing views of the positioning of their profession. What constitutes dirty
work for them depends on this view—its definition is situated. We argue in this paper that the
two phenomena are related: considering some tasks as degrading implies a specific orientation
of the profession; in turn, proposing a particular positioning for the profession entails defining
what constitutes dirty work. Management controllers use accounting as a means of rendering
invisible—or less visible—the least prestigious elements of their profession, by shifting the
attention of others towards the more rewarding actions. Our case study demonstrates that the
accounting eye is therefore focused on, and draws attention to, not organisational failures but
whatever makes controllers proud.||en