Identities in transition: Audit recruits and the German reunification



Detzen D, Evans L & Hoffmann S (2023) Identities in transition: Audit recruits and the German reunification. Accounting, Organizations and Society.

This paper studies the identity transitions of East German audit recruits during the fundamental ideological, economic, and societal change brought about by the reunification of Germany in 1990. Integrating the identity work literature with key concepts from Pierre Bourdieu and Erving Goffman, we build on semi-structured interviews with two groups of recruits—university graduates and former state auditors—to explore and theorize the marked differences observed in these recruits' transition processes. In line with wider processes of territorial stigmatization, we argue that the West German audit firms pragmatically instrumentalized their local personnel, seeking to deploy them without intending to integrate them into the profession. In turn, the audit recruits met with this exertion of symbolic violence by managing a ‘spoiled identity’. The university graduates found it easier to recognize and accumulate legitimate forms of capital, thereby submitting themselves to the inculcation of the profession's socialization process, which ultimately yielded their institution into the profession. In contrast, the former state auditors' local knowledge and access to client networks provided immediately useful capital to the West German firms, which, however, sought to retain a status differential vis-à-vis these recruits. As a result of such strategies of condescension, the former state auditors maintained key aspects of their identity as a salient part of their self-conception. We further highlight the role of the local audit offices in the recruits' transition processes, as they evolved from flexible spaces, which allowed for experimentation and improvisation, into more structured units. This process embedded professional values and practices, thereby creating localized office identities.

Identity transition; Symbolic violence; Territorial stigmatization; Audit profession; German reunification

Output Status: Forthcoming/Available Online

Accounting, Organizations and Society

StatusIn Press
FundersChartered Accountants Ireland
Publication date online20/01/2023
Date accepted by journal21/12/2022
PublisherElsevier BV

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Professor Lisa Evans

Professor Lisa Evans

Professor of Accounting, Accounting & Finance