Exploring Agency and Social Control through Comparative Biography : Robert Owen, Henry Ford, and E. Haldeman-Julius
Washburn University. School of Business
Kaw Valley Bank
Orthodox accounting and economic literature treats individuals as having full agency for rational decision making within the self-evident boundaries of a firm. Agency theory downplays the indirect mechanisms of social control as it implicitly assumes a direct link between controllers and the controlled. In contrast, scholars outside the accounting discipline see individuals as highly constrained by social forces. This paper uses a comparative biography of Robert Owen (1771-1858), Henry Ford (1863-1947), and Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (1889-1951) to explore how institutional forces can operate to limit personal agency and marginalize unorthodox ideas. The paper illustrates how the press, religious leaders, selective service classifications, postal regulations, and tax audits were used as indirect mechanisms for the suppression of socialist ideology. The paper concludes with ramifications for modern accounting pedagogy.