Understanding paradoxes, contradictions and agency in financial management change: a case study of a Chinese local government agency

Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change

ISSN: 1832-5912

Article publication date: 6 June 2008




Yang, C. (2008), "Understanding paradoxes, contradictions and agency in financial management change: a case study of a Chinese local government agency", Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change, Vol. 4 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/jaoc.2008.31504bad.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Understanding paradoxes, contradictions and agency in financial management change: a case study of a Chinese local government agency

Article Type: Doctoral research abstracts From: Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change, Volume 4, Issue 2

Purpose – The research for this thesis was inspired by the public finance framework (PFF) reform, the latest event in a series of government-led reforms in China. It examines the background, the content and the implementation of the PFF in relation to the broader context of China as an emerging and dynamic society, paying special attention to the tensions and paradoxes in the process of the policy-making. The thesis also explores the sequence of events during the transitional period of a Chinese local government department; and seeks to explain the substantial shift in its working ethos, finance administration and vision. Furthermore, the thesis is concerned with capturing and expressing organisation and accounting change in a processual way. Although a “processual” view on change has been broadly accepted, an internally coherent theoretical language is still wanting. This thesis seeks to advance our understanding of process with the insights from the dialectical approach.

Design/methodology/approach – Starting from an analysis of the central policy, this thesis goes on to uncover details of the organisational life through an in-depth case study in a Chinese local government department. The dialectical approach has informed much of the research for this thesis; and it helps the author to engage in the organisational “reality”; as well as to detach and make sense of it.

Findings – The research has led to a number of findings. First, it argues that policy change is a complicated process rather than a linear and instrumental progress leaping from one state to the next. Second, the case study suggests that local public finance administration has been little affected by the PFF rhetoric, due to the different types of complexities surrounding both the central and local governments. Furthermore, guided by the dialectical approach, this thesis has succeeded in approaching and expressing the research field as processual, through spelling out the “complexities” with a degree of precision without losing the richness of the real world. Finally, the thesis highlights the significance of the human agent in framing change.

Research limitations/implications – As a result of the limited parallel research, there is no established pattern on the way research from the dialectical perspective should be carried out, which on the one hand makes this research an uncharted zone without prior guidance; on the other offers opportunities for original thinking on theoretical and methodological issues. The thesis has two limitations which suggest directions for future research. First, the scope of the fieldwork was confined geographically to a local government department in a northern Chinese city and is limited to its early stage of transition. Thus, the documentation of the case represents an incomplete snapshot of change. Second, attempts to theorising contradictions underlying change are inherently contested; hence the conclusions are subject to debate and possible disagreement. In this respect, future studies may either deal with issues of change in different geographical contexts or expand the scope of the investigation to include the broader phases in the process of the organisation.

Originality/value – This thesis proposes a theory of praxis and provides an in-depth illustration of how top management can shape change by exploiting tensions internal and external to the organisation. This may resonate with and even inform local leaders in dealing with managerial affairs. Overall, the thesis raises a range of methodological, practical and theoretical issues relevant to the future study of management accounting change in a variety of national and international contexts.

Keywords: Financial management change, Public sector accounting, Local government, China

Research type – Qualitative case studyAward institution – The University of Manchester, UKSupervisor – Professor Robert W. ScapensContact e-mail – chunlei.yang@mbs.ac.uk

DOI – 10.1108/18325910810878973

ChunLei YangManchester Business School, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

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