The study explores recent advances in audit philosophies and approaches in large auditing firms, and, in particular, examines the impact of these advances on the quality of audit judgement. Drawing on Foucault's technologies of the self, the structure of the "new" regime of strategic audit, is envisaged in terms of disciplinary modalities that may facilitate the production of autonomy in human agents. This autonomy potentially allows more scope for individual discretion in audit evidence gathering and judgement processes. This study applies insights from Foucaultian critical accounting research in the exploration of how these changing philosophies and approaches have been reflected in audit practice and affected the individual auditor. The analysis of interview narratives is used to illuminate auditors' shared perceptions and experiences of this organisational change. What primarily emerges from the study are insights into how, in the absence of real substantive change in audit practices, the jargon of the new audit approaches operates as a form of power through socialisation processes, to facilitate the production of what amounts to an appearance of change. It appears that efforts have been made to accommodate the new philosophies of audit within existing structures and established understandings of the risk-based approach to audit. Audit discourse has been reconfigured as a discourse of assurance, a key feature of which has been a greater emphasis on commercialisation of the service delivery. The recent reform of audit has glossed over a lack of accountability, left existing structures more or less intact, and made no substantial change in the operationalisation of (autonomous) audit judgements. The study raises issues about the processes through which individual conduct is disciplined in audit practice. Despite a shift in a discourse, judgement, in both the "new" and the older forms of audit, appears as a ritual reflecting best practice of the profession with little decisional autonomy granted to an individual. The paradox emerges that preoccupation with the sophistication of programmes and the appearances of professionalism delimits the amount of time available for the exercise of judgement and interpretation in the audit process. It may seem effective and legitimate to routinise judgements as reflected in risk assessment checklists. However, in the context of the new audit regime, where auditors are expected to carry out more qualitative assessment, a data gathering process would benefit from more idiosyncratic, unstructured judgements. This is addressed as an area for further exploration. © 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.