The empirical focus of this article is a ten-month ethnography of a tax audit process led by the Danish Tax and Customs Administration. The tax audit concerns a number of shady car dealings from which taxable income is not reported. This article focuses on the process whereby the tax administration succeeds in making some of these car dealings visible. This article draws inspiration from interpretative tax studies that consider taxation as an organisational, institutional, social and cultural phenomenon. Complementing those studies’ approaches, the present study draws both on Latour’s concept of the oligopticon and on Foucault’s notion of the panopticon. The analysis shows that tax inspectors produce oligoptic and panoptic visions when they account for taxpayers’ economic activities and that tax inspectors’ visions are received differently by the represented taxpayers. Some taxpayers fall out of sight, whereas others are highly visible and are interrogated in detail. Using the concepts of the oligopticon and the panopticon to analyse the tax audit process is significant for interpretative tax and accounting studies, because this theoretical approach represents an original method of conceptualising taxation in practice and the work implied in tax administration. Furthermore, due to its detailed ethnography of the tax audit process, this study makes a significant methodological contribution.
Accounting, Organizations and Society, 2014, Vol 39, Issue 1, p. 1-19