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The fall of normative accounting research

In what I found to be an interesting article, July 2013’s Accounting Organizations and Society features a paper on the “The tale of ARIA” (or the more provocative title is “Accounting academic elites:  The tale of ARIA” – I wonder if the authors when coming up with titles like this just want to ensure their readership is only those from the critical school – but I digress).

ARIA – Accounting Researchers International Association – was founded by a group of normative accounting researchers in 1974.  No doubt it was a reaction to the onslaught of positive empirical research that was rising steadily in the then handful of accounting journals in the first round of paradigm wars to sweep our discipline.

These were researchers such as Yuji Iijiri, Robert Sterling and the like would wanted to reason about what accounting should be from a deductive principles based approach with as little a node to empirical research as they could get away with.

This earned them the title, from the positivist empirical camp, of the “arm-chair researchers.”

Anyhow, the story of how this group of what was in their day some of the leading lights of the academic accounting profession’s attempt to maintain their research tradition in light of the positivist revolution in accounting research is instructive.

It also, at least to me, gives me some insights as to why an earlier generation of positivists researchers reacted so negatively to qualitative methodology based research.  More on this later.

In any case the 19 year history of ARIA is an interesting read albeit as usual I recommend a quick scanning of the theory section unless you want an incomplete tutorial on Bourdieu’s social theory.  pp. 370 onward tells and analyzes the story of this very interesting organization that was dedicated to what became a rearguard action as all the leading accounting journals but a couple, became to be completely dominated by positivist researchers.

The Swiss – getting it right????

I recently made my first trip to Switzerland (I was in the country for five days but never saw a mountain – gives you an idea of what the weather was like).

I found it most interesting that in the German Cantons three universities have collaborated on a PhD program where each school specializes in one paradigm of accounting research but the schools share joint coursework so that student can get a well-rounded education with exposure to multiple paradigms in research.  This deals with one of the problems that most German universities have – that is – having only three Chairs in accounting (financial/audit, management and governance or tax).  Yes, I know Mannheim is an exception but that is what it is, an exception.

The underlying problem is that we can never rise to Bill Kinney’s challenge to let the question guide method selection if we only teach our students one method.  As for the claims that specialization requires only one method be learned in-depth – that suggests the focus of inquiry is the method NOT the substantive subject matter.  If we really want to be audit, financial accounting, management accounting or tax researchers, we really need the set of tools to study the discipline NOT just one size fits all.  After all, if you have young children you know one thing is certain for sure – if you give them a hammer – every problem presented is an opportunity to bang on it.  If we as parents spend time teaching our children in the real world not to solve every problem with a hammer – why do we do it to our “children” that we educate in our doctoral programs?????


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