American Journal of Cultural Sociology

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 131–156 | Cite as

Relational accounting: A cultural approach

  • Frederick F Wherry
Open Access
Original Article


This article extends (but goes beyond) Zelier’s original concept of relational earmarking, where individuals engaged in dynamic forms of relational work categorize their spending and develop practices of resource allocation by virtue of the relationships being managed. This article pushes for a performative understanding of accounting practices by elaborating a theory of relational accounting based on the outlines proposed by Zelizer. Relational accounting begins (i) upstream where identifiable codes and structured meaning systems shape the set of options, non-options and their sense of being possible for the person engaged in action. Moral considerations embedded in these codes affect the geometric shape of the individual’s decision tree, nearly collapsing some decision branches. (ii) In mid-stream there are meaningful, ritually prescribed occasions altering accounting priorities. And (iii) downstream people are engaged in relational work where the meanings of their relationships function performatively. Deals make more or less sense by virtue of the types of relationships being managed and the meanings of the relational sites where monetary evaluations take place. Identifiable third parties sanction these relational performances. The article concludes with concrete examples of relational accounting for luxury transactions and for high cost debt.


debt decision trees household finance relational accounting mental accounting morality 

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frederick F Wherry
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

Personalised recommendations