How the Big Four maintain and defend logic equilibrium at concurrent performances

Neil J. Dunne, Niamh M. Brennan, Collette E. Kirwan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The Big Four's organizational field is dominated by two conflicting institutional logics, the professional logic and the commercial logic, resulting in a fragile logic equilibrium. We conceptualize logic equilibrium as offering instrumental value to the Big Four, and therefore a resource worth maintaining and defending. The paper mobilizes Goffman's dramaturgical framework to examine how the Big Four maintain logic equilibrium in recurrent performances (i.e., their annual reviews), and defend it against threats in contingent performances (i.e., their comment letter responses to a regulatory inquiry). The research uses meaning-oriented content analysis. The study finds that the Big Four maintain logic equilibrium via recurrent performances that ostensibly summon concepts evocative of the professional and commercial logics in equal measure, but in substance, mobilize professional-logic concepts to privilege client-centric concerns associated with the commercial logic. In defending logic equilibrium from threats, the Big Four's contingent performances draw almost exclusively on concepts associated with the professional logic. However, these contingent performances also principally use the professional logic towards a commercial end, in this case, as a buffer against regulatory proposals. In foregrounding institutional work's performative nature, we contend that the commercial logic has commandeered the professional logic, the latter becoming a performative sign-vehicle directed towards commercial ends.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102479
JournalCritical Perspectives on Accounting
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jun 2022


  • Big Four
  • Erving Goffman
  • Financial crisis
  • Institutional logics
  • Institutional work


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