Counting before acting? The performativity of carbon accounting called into question - Calculation acts and <em>dispositifs</em> in a big French construction company
The emerging field of carbon accounting, a system based on conventions and designed to measure greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in companies and organizations, is currently generating interest both in industry and among researchers. The literature has however highlighted the fact that companies’ use of carbon accounting has often been limited to public relations practices and has failed to result in low-carbon strategic collective action by companies. This article explores how carbon accounting practices could be performative, that is to say, able to deeply transform companies’ practices and strategies. In order to do so, a case study of one specific company, “company V,” is examined. In particular, the process of performation through elementary calculation acts – in other words, managerial situations where speech acts are based on a calculation – is considered. We show that calculations based on carbon accounting, if repeated and integrated into a broader strategic dispositif, are performative. The contribution is twofold, for we show: first from an empirical standpoint, little-known phenomena pertaining to the actual use of carbon accounting in organizations; and second from a theoretical standpoint, the role of calculation acts in the launching and maintenance of the new form of collective action that a strategic dispositif is.