A genealogy of accounting and pastoral power in the Australian disability welfare program (1908-2016)

Mona Nikidehaghani

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


    Public social policies play a pivotal role in determining what qualifies a person as being disabled. Since the early 20th century, the Australian Government has instigated social policies in an attempt to conceptualise the boundaries of disability, as well as the rights and responsibilities of disabled people. This study analyses the influence of accounting in Australian social policies for disabled people from 1908 to 2016. The thesis reveals the role of accounting in articulating what constitutes a disability identity as well as introducing programs to govern the “disability problem”. The dissertation demonstrates that accounting plays a dominant and influential role in the identification of disability.

    The study draws on the work of the French philosopher Michel Foucault to explore how accounting practices associated with disability welfare programs act as a technology of the self. Foucault’s (1988c, 2007) elaboration on the pastoral power deployed by early Christianity provides a conceptual framework to explain the implication of accounting as a technology for categorising disabled people. In particular, the study draws on Foucault’s (1988c, 2007) explanation of the relation of the Christian pastor and the members of the pastor’s church and the mechanisms the Christian pastor applies in the transformation of individuals. Through such a framework the role of accounting in the constitution of disability is revealed: it becomes apparent that financial and accounting discourse and practices are significant in explaining how disabled people identify and reflect on themselves and how disabled people are perceived by others.

    The thesis adopts a critical genealogical approach and provides a “history of the present”. This approach traces discontinuities in events and illuminates systems of formation for current modes of identification of disability, as well as programs designed in response to the “disability problem”. The study maps the formation of disability welfare benefits from 1908, when the Australian Government introduced the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, to the present.

    This thesis draws upon an extensive range of archival material including policy texts, Parliamentary Hansard transcripts, and administrative procedures, and renders a complex picture of the subjectification of disabled people in Australia. The analysis reveals that the current neo-liberal mentality of managing disability originates in the previous assumptions made in the process of caring for the disabled people. It demonstrates that reforms in political ideologies rely on the transformation of the self in a manner that contributes to particular political objectives. The thesis shows that accounting remains a constructive mechanism for transforming individuals and achieving desired ends, affirms the centrality of accounting as a technique of domination, and expands the implications of accounting to a technique of the self, by which subjects know themselves and are known by others.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Wollongong
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


    Dive into the research topics of 'A genealogy of accounting and pastoral power in the Australian disability welfare program (1908-2016)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this