Methodological Issues in Accounting Research: Theories and Methods

Bhagwan Khanna (Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand)

Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change

ISSN: 1832-5912

Article publication date: 21 March 2008



Khanna, B. (2008), "Methodological Issues in Accounting Research: Theories and Methods", Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 87-89.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This book consists of an edited collection of two dozens or so very ably and aptly written papers. Although the book is quite simply titled Methodological Issues in Accounting Research its coverage is immense and the depth wholesomely satisfying. The 26 chapters are arranged into seven parts, each addressing a particular category of needs for different types and classes of research endeavours and providing a collection of efficient and effective strategies confronting emerging researchers as well as well established scholars.

Chapter 1 introduces the book by succinctly providing a general overview of what is offered therein. Part I, starts with chapter two and goes on to provide the details and usual contours of the traditional theories grouped under positivist(ic) paradigms. Chapters 2‐4 describe rational choice theory, human relations and their interface within various organisational set‐ups and explores and tests various “fits” under the auspices of contingency research in the general context of management control systems. The remaining chapters of Part I (5‐7) provide an appropriate and involved discussion of agency theory, transaction costs and its predictors and their hypothesised influence on governance and hence the control desiderata along with the choice of strategies and their persistent interaction and influence on the control designs and its challenging problem(s). Current and prospective adherents of the positivist approach in their research endeavours would find Part I a virtual goldmine in terms of rich and comprehensive discussion of theoretical essentials and requisite methodological strong points, the perspectives on likely influences and interplay amongst interactions in terms of system designs and hypothesised causality.

Part II consists of only one chapter and deals with an alternative approach named a naturalistic approach, for undertaking social research. The focus is on empirically looking at the data to help evolve the theory rather than develop it a priori and then endeavour to test it. The chapter advocates the use of grounded theory that is, discovering the theory from the data by dropping theoretical preconceptions about the focussed area under examination. The idea herein is to develop the conceptual categories starting from the raw data. The essential properties as gauged from the studying of raw data are described having observed their inter‐relationships by employing systematic techniques of coding and analysis. This method is opined to be preferable where researchers seem to demonstrate a lack of confidence to grapple with ontological assumptions. Variables to be studied if they exhibit situation‐dependent underpinnings in terms of their meaning are a good subject area and hence it is suggested they be handled (for constructive results and conclusions) by this type of approach.

Part III is comprised of four chapters and is appropriately titled Institutional and Contextual Perspectives. Legitimacy theory, institutional theory, stakeholder theory and process' interpretation in the context of organisational change and management accounting systems are discussed in reasonable detail in this part. What provides the legitimacy to the organisations so that these are perceived as viable and hence more sustainable when viewed within relevant social, cultural and political contexts is debated herein. Chapter 10 discusses and provides an ongoing juxta‐position between old and new institutional perspectives. The tone and tenor of Chapter 11 is quite similar to the preceding one as it too affords a soft analysis of the shift from the erstwhile shareholders theory to the present and more modern stakeholders' theory. The latter affords greater support towards the sustainability of the organisation as it stresses stakeholders' needs (and expectations). The last chapter of this part provides an in‐depth discussion of management accounting systems, their conception, maturation and their process of adaptation to afford a good fit in the context of organisational change.

Part IV consists of four chapters that all deal with alternate perspectives that may be employed while undertaking research. One can view these as different and unusual but at the same time they are gaining in usage and hence in importance. Roslender's contribution highlights the use of critical theory as a plank to share the research, thus providing another not the run of the mill perspective while Dillard's deals with the labour theory as grounded in Braverman's formulation. The fascinating part of this chapter is the copious discussion of major criticisms appertaining its comprehensiveness, validity and contemporary relevance. The next chapter of Part IV dwells on Gandhian's contribution in terms of linking the Vedic philosophy as the dominant paradigm of economic growth. The subtle relationship of the notion of vasudev kutumbkam, the world is the family, with the general concept of accountability that is devoid of fear as stressed in his doctrine of Satyagraha (that is search of truth through dialogue). The last chapter of this part provides a sumptuous review‐discussion of the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of accounting research vis‐à‐vis power by describing single face of power, double faces of power and circuits of power and then linking these within organisational and institutional contexts.

Part V deals with the next stage in the usual and general research endeavour through its seven chapters by furnishing an illuminating and comprehensive discussion of strategies and analyses. The first chapter features and types of case studies and their usual criticisms together with the action research methodology that stresses on the combination of action and research to overcome vital social and organisational issues together with those of the practitioners. The second chapter in this part deals with the qualitative research and provides a helpful guide to link the philosophical assumptions of one's research project with the choice of appropriate methodology. Chapter 19 is the next chapter and deals with “protocol analysis” and its epistemological context. A rich list of hither to completed research works using this methodology, describing the basic features, issues and limitations along with likely directions that the prospective generations of researchers are encouraged to adopt has been ably presented. The following chapter is the usual run of the mill discourse, detailing the steps and the problems that are likely to be confronted when using financial ratios in quantitative analyses. These may hover around the selection of firms or choosing the profitability measures. This chapter culminates with some relevant and pragmatic suggestions. The next two chapters (21 and 22) deal with psychometric issues as they pertain to the issues of design, implementation and analysis and the ever present problems relating to the validity and reliability of measurements in survey research. The last chapter of this part deals with the topic of triangulation in its majesty, with its different forms and underscores its additional explanation and interpretational potency beyond the general view of the conventional paradigms. Though the suggested triangulation approach may have some limitations, but still the chapter and through it its authors seem to (justifiably) exhort researchers to use it to garner greater theoretical plurality by employing a variety of research methods even within a single study.

The penultimate part consisting of two chapters (24 and 25), while dealing with the recent issues of “ethics” and their interface with accounting research, does make realistic suggestions and offer tips with respect to handling the issues appertaining human ethics and the use of simple language to avoid any unpleasantness. The latter chapter discusses the methodological issues by tracing the history of public accounting profession and along with it its criticisms as they pertain to the research on accounting ethics. The discussion of social science approaches and the theory of moral development in this context are very ably handled.

The last part and the last chapter of this collection deal with the ever present problem of getting published. The problem is universal and applies to all and sundry across paradigms and varied theoretical contexts. The chapter is more advice‐based and touches on all aspects of this process. The suggestions with respect to the idea selection (from a collage of fascinating leads), its research oriented conceptualisation, decision about the theoretical foundation, the effort in data collection and subsequent analysis, actual writing and initial submission that may be followed by (painful, yet required) revision and resubmission are very articulately presented.

In the reviewer's considered assessment this collection of papers from the well‐known writers is an indispensable item for everyone, whether a seasoned researcher or one who is determinedly but cautiously taking those essential first steps towards this journey which many have embarked on before him and many more will undertake the same after him. The book provides a rich tapestry of theories and methods; old and traditional along with emerging and more contemporary, based on well focused paradigms and those deriving sustenance from eclectic sources. The coverage is extensive and the depth is serious enough to whet the appetite of all researchers. The editor deserves full credit as the chapters have been logically arranged to give an effective edge to the general topic with a view to afford the necessary and efficient flexibility of grasp and appreciation of the numerous issues deliberated therein. The language of all the selected papers is lucid and easy to follow without unjustified verbosity. The book has to be a companion for researchers as it has a treasure of options to choose from and plethora of cues and clues to rely on when confronted with choice for tackling the issues at hand. A strong support for its adoption in senior level classes and efforts of the research‐based institutions to ensure its availability to its present and prospective members is unreservedly advocated.

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