Impression management and Big Four auditors: Scrutiny at a public inquiry

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


To examine how Big Four auditors react to public scrutiny, we explore their evidence at a public inquiry on the Irish banking crisis. We use impression management theory to make sense of this evidence. By extending Goffman to a contemporary auditing context, we mobilize less-researched aspects of his dramaturgical framework. Drawing upon the prior literature, we develop a typology for examining how Big Four auditors impression-manage on a ‘frontstage’. Using meaning-oriented content analysis, we apply our typology to Big Four auditors’ public-inquiry evidence. Our findings indicate that Big Four auditors convey the following four impressions: (1) their hands are clean (i.e., they are not to blame for audit failure); (2) their hands were tied (i.e., they were powerless to prevent audit failure); (3) their work was good; and (4) their intentions are good. We conclude the paper by linking these four impressions to the professional beancounter character, and by considering whether the Big Four's impression management succeeded in influencing their audience. Identifying impression management by Big Four auditors provides insights into their beliefs, ambitions and concerns, and on how they regard clients, regulators and the general public.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101170
JournalAccounting, Organizations and Society
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2021


  • Audit
  • Banking crisis
  • Erving Goffman
  • Impression management
  • Meaning-oriented content analysis
  • Public inquiries


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