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Qualitative management accounting research: rationale, pitfalls and potential

Juhani Vaivio (Helsinki School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management

ISSN: 1176-6093

Article publication date: 7 March 2008




The paper aims to provide an overview of the rationale for qualitative research in management accounting. It discusses how qualitative research could serve the development of theory, and provides guiding principles for qualitative investigation. It also seeks to identify common problems in qualitative studies and lays out avenues for further qualitative inquiry.


The paper relies on critical reflection and deductive logic in its discussion, drawing on a wide range of theoretical pronouncements and methodological literature, as well as on some illustrative field studies in management accounting.


The paper opens a broad panorama: it emphasizes field research as a necessary counterweight to textbook appreciations of management accounting, to idealized economic models and to consultancy‐oriented agenda. It identifies how field research serves theory development in different ways, providing a set of practical principles which assist qualitative efforts. The paper also specifies pitfalls in qualitative studies and shows areas where the future potential of qualitative investigations can be focused.

Practical implications

This is a paper that motivates the “qualitative” management accounting scholar. But it also assists in a pragmatic way the qualitatively oriented management accounting scholar – especially someone with little prior experience in empirical fieldwork and in the theoretical interpretation of qualitative data.


The paper provides a source of inspiration, an instructive reflection and a practical guide for the qualitatively oriented, but still somewhat hesitant, management accounting scholar.



Vaivio, J. (2008), "Qualitative management accounting research: rationale, pitfalls and potential", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 64-86.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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