Relative reliability and the recognisable firm: Calculating goodwill impairment value

Jari Huikku, Jan Mouritsen, Hanna Silvola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


This paper complements financial accounting research by a qualitative study of financial accounting practices. Its object is goodwill impairment tests (IAS 36) under the influence of International Financial Reporting Standards, which it uses to illustrate how financial accounting is produced. The aim is to investigate how accounting standards are translated into accounting practices, and to investigate how this is reliable. Drawing on actor network theory, the paper proposes calculative practices to be a networked and distributed affair. The study has two main contributions. Firstly, it shows that in the case of goodwill impairment tests, financial accounting is a process of finding, qualifying, stabilizing and calculating traces that often have to be found beyond the company infrastructure of sheets of accounts and the financial ledger. Secondly, it shows that these traces increase reliability when they are recognisable and impersonal. No single person is responsible for the financial calculation and the traces used assume that a firm cannot systematically outperform the broader economy or the history of the firm. It also helps to increase reliability if institutional roles such as auditors and valuation experts tolerate the calculation. Reliability increase when traces and supporting institutional actors that take part in the calculation are at a distance. Because of this production process, readers of financial statements face the following paradox: the things they see are less associated with specific entrepreneurial activities in the firm and more with normalised trends inside and outside the firm. Seeing the firm requires them to look at its past, at negotiated budgets, at its competitors, at industrial outlook, and at the statistical bureaus that compile information on the economic development of industries and countries; they may also have to listen to valuation experts and auditors. Seeing the value of a firm requires actors to look elsewhere.
Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalAccounting, Organizations and Society
Issue numberJanuary
Pages (from-to)68-83
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 01.2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management


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