Problematizing profit and profitability: Discussions

Alan Lowe*, Yesh Nama, Alice Bryer, Nihel Chabrak, Claire Dambrin, Ingrid Jeacle, Johnny Lind, Philippe Lorino, Keith Robson, Chiara Bottausci, Crawford Spence, Chris Carter, Ekaterina Svetlova

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
198 Downloads (Pure)


The purpose of this paper is to report the outcome of an interdisciplinary discussion, in this AAAJ special issue, on the concepts of profit and profitability and various ways in which we could potentially problematise these concepts. It is our hope that a much greater attention or reconsideration of the problematisation of profit and related accounting numbers will be fostered in part by the exchanges we include here.

This paper adopts an interdisciplinary discussion approach. It also brings into conversation ideas and views of several scholars on problematising profit and profitability in various contexts and explores potential implications of such problematisation.

An interdisciplinary approach to problematising profit and profitability has a lot to offer. While profit and profitability are stigmas that corporations need to address, they tend to make invisible the collective endeavour of people who work hard (mostly in backstage) to achieve a desired profit level for a division and/or an organisation. Profit tends to preclude the social process of debating about the potential contradictions of ends and indeed the means of collective activity. An inherent message that we can decipher from the contributions to this discussion is the increasing need to worry about how managers are socialised to think that critical theory and interpretive research have no lessons for them. It is the failure of positivist researchers and practitioners to learn from the lessons that are offered by critical research in contrast to the suffocating influence of neo-liberal economic ideas. The impact of a fixation with markets and associated neo-liberal ideas that has led to a situation where organisations are strongly distrusted and in instances reviled in their attempts to make profits, at times illicitly.

In setting out a future research agenda, our paper fosters theoretical and methodological pluralism focussing on problematising profit and profitability in various settings. The discussion perspectives offered in this paper provides not only a basis for further research in this essential area of discourse and regulation on the role and status of profit and profitability, but also provides emancipatory potential for practitioners (to be reflective of their practices and the undesirable consequences of such practices) whose overarching focus is on these socially constructed accounting numbers.

Problematising opens-up the potential for interesting and significant theoretical insights. A much greater pragmatic and theoretical reconsideration of profit and profitability will be fostered by the exchanges we include here
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)753-793
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2020

Structured keywords

  • AF Management Accounting


  • Problematising
  • theoretical perspectives
  • profit
  • profitability


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