Auditing the auditors: a performative “spectacle” of public oversight

Peter Ghattas*, Teerooven Soobaroyen, Shahzad Uddin, Oliver Marnet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: This paper analyses the establishment and evolution of a public oversight body (POB) – the Egyptian Audit Oversight Unit (AOU) – and its implications for local auditing firms and practices. Design/methodology/approach: Primary data were gathered from 34 semi-structured interviews (including follow-up ones) between 2014 and 2020. Secondary data was obtained through publicly available documents and internal memos. Drawing on Debord's (1967) Society of the Spectacle, the insights focus on the POB's conception, materialisation and evolution in a context characterised by weak regulatory structures. Findings: Through a series of acts, the findings reveal how the AOU first accepted the image of “international best practice” oversight (the “metaphorical”), followed by the construction of the local structure and décor replicating a United States (US) style POB archetype (the “transformational”) by primarily relying on visible processes/procedures. Yet, these mechanisms emphasised the spectacular nature of oversight, with little improvement for practice and limiting itself to “cracking down” on smaller local firms. A final stage (the “performative”) reveals how the AOU seeks to expand its activities beyond its original mandate without challenging the image-driven nature of its oversight. Originality/value: The paper offers two key contributions. First, it reveals how actors, through a combination of symbolic and tangible measures, create a new performative reality of public oversight. Second, it advocates Debord's “spectacle” to complement other theoretical lenses, with a view to illuminating the materialisation stages that bridge the gap between proclaimed oversight policies and actual practices (including conscious and unconscious omissions) within a given political economy context.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Early online date31 Jul 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jul 2023


  • Auditing
  • Developing countries
  • Egypt
  • PCAOB archetype
  • Public oversight board
  • Spectacle


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