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Using grounded theory in interpretive management accounting research

Ali M. Elharidy (Faculty of Business, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand)
Brian Nicholson (Manchester Business School, Manchester, UK)
Robert W. Scapens (Manchester Business School, Manchester, UK University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands)

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management

ISSN: 1176-6093

Article publication date: 6 June 2008




The aim of this paper is to assess and explain the role of grounded theory (GT) in interpretive management accounting research (IMAR) and seeks to answer the question: can interpretive researchers use GT? And if so, how?


This is a theoretical paper that attempts to investigate how researchers can use GT in relation to their ontological stance, methodological position and research methods.


The paper suggests that GT offers a balance between the expediency of the research findings, thereby allowing researchers freedom to interpret management accounting practices, and the development of rigorous theory from IMAR.

Research limitations/implications

The paper provides an analysis of GT from an interpretive perspective and, clearly, there are other research perspectives which could have been discussed.

Practical implications

GT can be a powerful tool that researchers could use to collect and analyse empirical data. However, researchers need to align GT with the broader paradigm they adopt when researching social phenomena. The paper provides some general guidelines for IMARs who want to use GT in their research.


This paper shows that GT can offer interpretive researchers a way of balancing the need to develop theory, which is grounded in everyday practices, and the recognition that the research process is inherently subjective. However, it is argued that in interpretive research GT cannot provide a simple “recipe book” which, if followed rigorously, will result in a high‐quality research (i.e. valid, reliable and unbiased). Nevertheless, the guidelines provide a way for IMARs, who use GT to improve the quality of their research findings.



Elharidy, A.M., Nicholson, B. and Scapens, R.W. (2008), "Using grounded theory in interpretive management accounting research", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 5 No. 2, pp. 139-155.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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