Neill Dunne

Neill Dunne

PhD Thesis Title: A decade of scrutiny: Mobilizing Goffman to study the Big Four’s institutional logics, impression management and strategic framing

Supervisor: Professor Niamh Brennan

External Examiners:
Professor Ingrid Jeacle
Professor of Accounting and Popular Culture
University of Edinburgh Business School

Professor Sylvain Durocher
Telfer School of Management
University of Ottawa,


This three-paper dissertation examines how the Big Four accounting firms (Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers) respond to the heightened scrutiny they have faced since 2010. Applying Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical framework and framing theory to previously unexamined contexts, I trace how the Big Four ‘perform’ to European (2010), Irish (2015) and UK (2019) regulators, and unveil the Big Four’s Goffmanesque ‘self’ that emerges from my analysis of their performative activity.

Paper 1 investigates how the Big Four, in Goffmanesque terms, ‘perform’ to multiple audiences. In particular, I examine how the Big Four summon two institutional logics, the professional and commercial logics, to manage two contemporaneous performances entailing differing degrees of ‘front region control’. The research demonstrates how the Big Four accentuate institutional complexity in performances conveyed in annual reviews (high front-region control), but understate it in performances to regulators (low front-region control).

In Paper 2, I examine how the Big Four react to public scrutiny pertaining to the Irish banking crisis. I develop a typology of Big Four impression management strategies which I then apply to their public inquiry evidence. I find that the Big Four convey four impressions at the public inquiry: (1) their hands are clean; (2) their hands were tied; (3) their work was good; and (4) their intentions are good. Additionally, in connecting the inquiry findings to the Big Four performance, I conclude that the Big Four’s impression management attained meaningful impact on the inquiry audience.

Paper 3 deploys Goffman’s framing theory to examine how the Big Four resist regulation, and how regulators challenge this resistance. Deploying a turn-taking longitudinal perspective, I find that the Big Four deploy strategic frames to resist unwanted regulation. These frames are robustly disputed by a non-expert regulator. Unlike the impression management strategies considered in Paper 2, I find that the Big Four strategic frames only partially succeed in influencing their audience.

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