Between Maxwell and Micawber: plotting the failure of the Equitable Life

Collins, David and Dewing, Ian and Russell, Peter (2015) Between Maxwell and Micawber: plotting the failure of the Equitable Life. Accounting and Business Research, 45 (6-7). pp. 715-737. ISSN 0001-4788

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This paper offers reflections on the failure of The Equitable Life Assurance Society. Noting that the collapse of this financial institution precipitated a raft of official inquiries, we provide a detailed analysis and ‘re-view’ of the public inquiry report that was produced by Lord Penrose. The paper observes that Lord Penrose's text presents itself as a factual description of events. Yet we counter that this report remains, at root, a creative product which depends upon narrative strategies of characterisation and emplotment. Analysing the narrative resources and the broader narratological choices that underpin Lord Penrose's account of the Equitable affair, we suggest that this report turns upon a Maxwellian rendering of the drama's key protagonist. Questioning the assumptions, omissions and elisions which underpin this method of plotting the failure of the Equitable, we propose another means of characterising the drama's principal. Building upon a reading of David Copperfield, we proffer a Micawberish alternative to the Maxwellian autocrat favoured by Lord Penrose's text. Readers are invited to consider the relative merits of these contrasting narratives and are, furthermore, encouraged to reflect upon the manner in which the interplay between text, author and reader acts to shape public understanding of accounting, accountability and financial regulation more broadly.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Equitable Life, financial regulation, public inquiry, genre, Penrose report, narrative, organisational storytelling, Maxwell, Micawber
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Business & Applied Social Science > Suffolk Business School
Depositing User: David Upson-Dale
Date Deposited: 12 Mar 2018 09:37
Last Modified: 12 Mar 2018 15:39

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