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Article
Publication date: 16 October 2017

Ivo de Loo and Alan Lowe

The starting point for this paper is that the researcher is intimately bound up in all aspects of the research process. This idea of what is a critical aspect of much…

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Abstract

Purpose

The starting point for this paper is that the researcher is intimately bound up in all aspects of the research process. This idea of what is a critical aspect of much interpretive methodology has been challenged by some proponents of the interpretive accounting research (IAR) project. The authors suggest that adopting some of the views expounded in the IAR project may lead to the accounting research community becoming isolated from other interpretive methodology inspired disciplines. The paper aims to discuss these issues.

Design/methodology/approach

Currently popular views on IAR are informed by selective theoretical insights from interpretive sociology. The authors argue that these insights cannot provide a general frame with which to encapsulate accounting research that may be reasonably termed “interpretive.”

Findings

The authors’ reading of the literature suggests that the some of the IAR literature exhibits: a tendency to routinely make overly specific claims for what it is possible for interpretive research to achieve; the promotion of a somewhat reductionist view of what the bounds of interpretive research are. The authors suggest that these tendencies detract from the strengths of (adopting a broad view of) IAR.

Research limitations/implications

In expressing the authors’ concerns, the authors do not wish to make an exclusive argument for what IAR is and is not. This would not be in line with writing an interpretive paper. While the authors do not eschew the possibility of a limited building of knowledge by applying interpretive methodological stances neither do the authors see such activity as a central plank of interpretive research.

Practical implications

The authors believe that positivistic commentaries on qualitative enquiry should not be taken as exemplary of interpretive research (in accounting – or elsewhere). The authors feel that IAR needs to be more open to an array of subjectivist motivations, if it is to provide useful critique of the nature of day-to-day accounting practice.

Originality/value

The authors seek to go beyond the rather unhelpful debate about whether IAR should be seen to possess both objective and subjective elements. The authors argue that IAR suffers more from a lack of engagement and debate than it faces dangers from areas of interpretive methodology that adopt positions considered to be too subjectivist.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 30 no. 8
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 8 November 2022

Umesh Sharma and Alan Lowe

This paper aims to use a perspective informed by practice theory to examine the influence of change agents in enacting management control systems (MCS) in the process of…

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to use a perspective informed by practice theory to examine the influence of change agents in enacting management control systems (MCS) in the process of shaping strategy.

Design/methodology/approach

The research uses a case study approach to examine the implementation of a business strategy in the utility sector. The authors seek a better understanding of practice theory and its role in influencing institutional change and stability.

Findings

The case study findings show that the change agents enacted MCS practices that aided the metamorphosis of a once state-owned company into a for-profit enterprise. The findings show how the organisation transformed from a long-established preoccupation with technical systems and engineering and shifted to a focus on customer satisfaction and shareholder interests.

Research limitations/implications

In terms of policy implications, bureaucrats need to appreciate that inculcating business norms is not an easy path and can be met with resistance, which creates delays in strategy implementation. The current study, while reporting some of the influences of tribal loyalty, was nevertheless limited by not having the time and space to examine in-depth the intersections of MCS and strategy within a strongly tribal context. This can be an avenue for future research.

Practical implications

The study helps to understand embedded actors in the implementation of strategy by refocusing research on the actions and interactions of strategy implementation practitioners.

Originality/value

The authors contribute to the literature by seeking to use practice theory and offer a valuable understanding, from the actor level, of how practices are created and enacted. Often accounting studies have paid less attention to the change agents in the process of shaping business-oriented strategic activity. This study enabled us to gain a better understanding of the action and practice behaviour around the strategy-MCS nexus.

Details

Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, vol. ahead-of-print no. ahead-of-print
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 1176-6093

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 27 April 2020

Alan Lowe, Yesh Nama and Alexandru Preda

The purpose of this paper is to advance a research agenda on the topic of problematising profit and profitability. This paper also acts as an introduction to this…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to advance a research agenda on the topic of problematising profit and profitability. This paper also acts as an introduction to this Accounting, Auditing & Accountability (AAAJ) special section which aims to foster the development of literature focussing on critically evaluating issues surrounding profit and profitability and their sometimes, deleterious effects on society. The authors encourage an interdisciplinary discussion on the concepts of profit and profitability and various ways in which the authors could potentially problematise these concepts.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors undertake a purposive interdisciplinary review to provide context on problematising profit and profitability by briefly discussing the evolution of the concept of profit and by reviewing some contemporary debates and discussions about the role and status of profit and profitability.

Findings

In order to further develop the literature on problematising profit and profitability, it is important to broaden the analytical framework in order to (1) uncover the assumptions that make profitable activities possible as well as justifications of such activities; (2) analyse the practices of profit not only in the sense of computational practices but also in the sense of strategic and rhetorical calculations; (3) evaluate the practices of profit and profitability where they are situated within social and power relationships and (4) connect practices of profit to specific social imaginaries of profit.

Originality/value

In setting out a future research agenda, this paper fosters theoretical and methodological pluralism and encourages box-breaking research in the research community focussing on problematising profit and profitability in various settings. The perspectives offered in this paper provides not only a basis for further research in this critical area of discourse and regulation on the role and status of profit and profitability but also provides emancipatory potential for practitioners (to be reflective of their practices and their undesired consequences of such practices) whose overarching focus is on these accounting numbers.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 33 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 1 May 2020

Alan Lowe, Yesh Nama, Alice Bryer, Nihel Chabrak, Claire Dambrin, Ingrid Jeacle, Johnny Lind, Philippe Lorino, Keith Robson, Chiara Bottausci, Crawford Spence, Chris Carter and Ekaterina Svetlova

The purpose of this paper is to report the outcome of an interdisciplinary discussion on the concepts of profit and profitability and various ways in which we could…

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to report the outcome of an interdisciplinary discussion on the concepts of profit and profitability and various ways in which we could potentially problematize these concepts. It is our hope that a much greater attention or reconsideration of the problematization of profit and related accounting numbers will be fostered in part by the exchanges we include here.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper adopts an interdisciplinary discussion approach and brings into conversation ideas and views of several scholars on problematizing profit and profitability in various contexts and explores potential implications of such problematization.

Findings

Profit and profitability measures make invisible the collective endeavour of people who work hard (backstage) to achieve a desired profit level for a division and/or an organization. Profit tends to preclude the social process of debate around contradictions among the ends and means of collective activity. An inherent message that we can discern from our contributors is the typical failure of managers to appreciate the value of critical theory and interpretive research for them. Practitioners and positivist researchers seem to be so influenced by neo-liberal economic ideas that organizations are distrusted and at times reviled in their attachment to profit.

Research limitations/implications

Problematizing opens-up the potential for interesting and significant theoretical insights. A much greater pragmatic and theoretical reconsideration of profit and profitability will be fostered by the exchanges we include here.

Originality/value

In setting out a future research agenda, this paper fosters theoretical and methodological pluralism in the research community focussing on problematizing profit and profitability in various settings. The discussion perspectives offered in this paper provides not only a basis for further research in this critical area of discourse and regulation on the role and status of profit and profitability but also emancipatory potential for practitioners (to be reflective of their practices and their undesired consequences of such practices) whose overarching focus is on these accounting numbers.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 1233 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

Content available
Article
Publication date: 18 June 2021

Maryam Safari, Eva Tsahuridu and Alan Lowe

The paper offers insights on the response of a Big4 firm to the COVID-19 crisis vis-à-vis moral considerations. More specifically, the authors draw on Bauman's (1990…

Abstract

Purpose

The paper offers insights on the response of a Big4 firm to the COVID-19 crisis vis-à-vis moral considerations. More specifically, the authors draw on Bauman's (1990) “moral impulse” to explore how the interrelated tactics of distancing, effacement of the face and reduction of people to traits tend to weaken moral considerations and negatively influences decisions and actions.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors adopt a qualitative approach that involves an interpretive textual analysis of the COVID-19 responses of a Big 4 accounting firm. Their study uses two vignettes in which they problematise aspects of the actions and ethico-social contribution of a Big4 firm in the heat of a global pandemic.

Findings

The findings reveal examples of effacement of the human face (depersonalization/dehumanization) and reduction of persons to traits, as well as excessive distancing between the “doing” actors and those individuals who bear the consequences of those actions. Revealing an opportunity lost, the authors’ vignettes indicate that the reduction to traits tactics led to dissembling and dehumanizing employees into resources that perform tasks that are “value-add” for the organisation, consonant with neoliberal ideologies.

Research limitations/implications

The common limitations of qualitative approach apply to the current study for generalisability. The authors also rely heavily on publicly available information given the time frame they were faced with and their chosen research approach.

Social implications

Drawing on accounting delineation debates, the paper calls for societal dialogues for reshaping the “official” accounting of events.

Originality/value

The authors elaborate moral impulse through the interrelated tactics of distancing, effacement of the face and reduction to traits, during a crisis. Their study mobilises a moral evaluation through which they uncover documented responses by a Big4 firm during the COVID-19 crisis. The study shows how the norms of human action have been systematically cut off from the original moral habitat and subordinated, and evaluated according, to business standards.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 35 no. 1
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 6 November 2020

Muhammad Al Mahameed, Ataur Belal, Florian Gebreiter and Alan Lowe

This paper explores how social accounting operates in the context of profound political, social and economic crises. Specifically, it examines how companies constructed…

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Abstract

Purpose

This paper explores how social accounting operates in the context of profound political, social and economic crises. Specifically, it examines how companies constructed strategies of action to produce and organise social accounting practices under different sociopolitical and economic contexts prior to and after the Arab Spring.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper draws on Swidler's theory of “Culture Toolkit” and 43 semi-structured interviews with 17 firms and their stakeholders in the Arab region.

Findings

The study argues that context influences social accounting practices by shaping a cultural toolkit of habits, skills and styles from which companies develop their social accounting related strategies of action. During “settled” periods, companies draw on resources to develop their social accounting practices whilst they seek knowledge and feedback on boundaries and expectations of the socio-political and economic contexts. During “unsettled” periods, companies begin to adopt highly organised meaning systems (i.e. ideologies) from which new ways and methods of social accounting practices are deployed.

Originality/value

The paper contributes to the extant literature by providing insights into social accounting practices in the under-explored context of the profound political, social and economic crises that followed the Arab Spring. In addition, we introduce Swidler's Culture Toolkit theory to the accounting literature.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 34 no. 5
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 4 October 2022

Teng Li, Nunung Nurul Hidayah, Ou Lyu and Alan Lowe

This case study presents a critical analysis of why and how corporate managers in China are reluctant to adopt sustainability reporting assurance (SRA) provided by…

Abstract

Purpose

This case study presents a critical analysis of why and how corporate managers in China are reluctant to adopt sustainability reporting assurance (SRA) provided by externally independent third-party assurers, despite the fact that it is acknowledged as a value-adding activity globally.

Design/methodology/approach

A longitudinal fieldwork case study was conducted from 2014 to 2019 in a Chinese central state-owned enterprise (CSOE), a pioneer in sustainability reporting practice since the mid-2000s, to collect first-hand empirical data on managerial perceptions of the adoption of external SRA. Semi-structured interviews with 25 managers involved in sustainability (reporting) practice were conducted. The interview data were triangulated with an analysis of archival documents and board meeting minutes pertaining to the undertakings of sustainability practices in the case study organization.

Findings

Our empirical analysis suggests that while managers recognize the benefits of adopting external SRA in enhancing the legitimacy of sustainability accountability, they oppose SRA because of their deep-rooted allegiance to the dominant logic of sociopolitical stability in China. SRA is envisaged to risk the stability of the socialist ideology with which CSOEs are imbued. Therefore, any transformational approach to accepting a novel (foreign) practice must be molded to gain control and autonomy, thereby maintain the hegemony of stability logic. Instead of disregarding external verification, managers of our case SOE appear to harness sustainability reporting as a navigational space to engage in internally crafted alternative manners in order to resist the rationality of SRA.

Originality/value

The empirical analysis presents a nuanced explanation as to why internal managers have hitherto been reluctant to embrace the embedding of independent assurance into the sustainability reporting process. Our prolonged fieldwork provides ample context-specific, intra-organizational evidence regarding the absence of SRA in Chinese CSOEs, which warrants more attention given their considerable presence in the global economy. In addition, the empirical analysis contributes to our understanding of the managerial capture of sustainability issues in a specific context of state capitalism and how organizations and individuals in an authoritarian regime interpret and respond to novel discourses derived from distinct institutional settings.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. ahead-of-print no. ahead-of-print
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 29 September 2022

Tarek Rana, Alan Lowe and Md Saiful Azam

This study examines green investment reforms carried out in Bangladesh. The reform process curated significant changes by promoting green investment and fostering the…

Abstract

Purpose

This study examines green investment reforms carried out in Bangladesh. The reform process curated significant changes by promoting green investment and fostering the adoption of risk management (RM) rationalities. This study’s focus is on revealing changes in behaviour and explaining how RM can act as an effective generator of climate change mitigation practices.

Design/methodology/approach

Building on Foucault's concept of governmentality, the authors apply a “green governmentality” interpretive lens to analyse interviews and documentary evidence, adopting a qualitative case study approach. The authors explore how green governmentality generates RM rationalities and techniques to induce policies and practices within banks and financial institutions (FIs) for climate change mitigation purposes.

Findings

The findings provide valuable insights into the reform process and influence of RM rationalities in the context of environmental concerns. The authors find that the reforms and creation of RM rationalities affect the management of climate mitigation practices within banks and FIs and identify the processes through which the RM techniques are transformed as climate concerns are emphasised. The authors illustrate green governmentality as persuasive strategies, which have generated specific ways of seeing climate change reality and new ways of inserting RM into organisational activities, through the green governmentality effects they created. These reforms made climate change actionable and governable through the production of RM rationalities, supported by accounting conceptualisations and processes.

Research limitations/implications

The insights from this study can assist with how we act upon questions of climate change from an RM perspective. Governments, policymakers and regulators who develop climate change-related laws, regulations and policies can draw on these insights to help foster green governmentality for climate change mitigation actions informed by RM practices.

Originality/value

This study offers insights into how climate change is not simply a biophysical reality but a site of power-knowledge dynamics where RM rationalities are constructed, and accounting processes are transformed. The authors show the application of RM and accounting efforts to change investment practices and how changes were encouraged and promoted by using regulation as a persuasive force on knowledgeable subjects rather than a repressive or oppressive power. The analytic power of green governmentality can be applied to increase understanding of how RM rationality contribute to the creation of useful conceptualisations of climate change and provide insights into how organisations respond to green governmentality.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. ahead-of-print no. ahead-of-print
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

Article
Publication date: 30 April 2021

Laura Maran and Alan Lowe

This paper reports an investigation of a hybrid ex-state-owned enterprise (ex-SOE) providing ICT (Information and Communication Technology) services in the Italian…

Abstract

Purpose

This paper reports an investigation of a hybrid ex-state-owned enterprise (ex-SOE) providing ICT (Information and Communication Technology) services in the Italian healthcare sector (in-house provision). The authors aim to offer a framing that reflects the concerns expressed in the interdisciplinary literature on hybrid SOEs from management, public administration and, more recently, accounting.

Design/methodology/approach

This study operationalizes Besharov and Smith’s (2014) theoretical model on multiple logics to analyze institutional structures and organizational outcomes at an ICT in-house provider. It builds on extensive textual analysis of regulatory, archival, survey and interview data.

Findings

The study results show that the combination of hybridity in the form of layering of multiple logics in the health care sector (Polzer et al., 2016) creates problems for the effectiveness of ICT provision. In particular, the hybrid organization the authors study remained stuck in established competing relationships despite a restructure of regional health care governance. The study findings also reflect on the design of organizational control mechanisms when balancing different logics.

Research limitations/implications

The identified case-study accountability practices and performance system add to the debate on hybrid organizations in the case of ex-SOEs and facilitate the understanding and management of hybrids in the public sector. The authors note policymaking implications.

Originality/value

The authors’ operationalization of Besharov and Smith's (2014) model adds clarity to key elements of their model, notably how to identify evidence in order to disentangle notions of centrality and compatibility. By doing this, the authors’ analysis offers potential insights into both managerial design and policy prescription. The authors provide cautionary tales around institutional reorganization regarding the layered synthesis of logics within these organizations.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 35 no. 3
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

Open Access
Article
Publication date: 28 May 2019

Firdaus Amyar, Nunung Nurul Hidayah, Alan Lowe and Margaret Woods

There has been very little qualitative “fieldwork” of audit practice. This is especially the case in relation to investigations into how audit engagements proceed. The…

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Abstract

Purpose

There has been very little qualitative “fieldwork” of audit practice. This is especially the case in relation to investigations into how audit engagements proceed. The purpose of this paper is to engage with audit practice in order to explore and explain the internal dynamics and paradoxical conditions within audit engagement teams.

Design/methodology/approach

The research adopts a qualitative methodology, framed around an intensive case study that involves several methods of data collection and analysis including interviews, observation and document analysis. The authors observe audit team practices, work programmes and organisation including observations of individual and teams involved in audit engagements.

Findings

Using the lens of paradox theory, the authors explore the backstage of audit work, where audit teams are challenged with recurring contradictory requirements and opposing demands. The authors provide insight on the complexity associated with inadequate resourcing and planning that tend to stimulate the emergence of paradoxes in audit engagement work in a government audit context. As a result, the authors identify the occurrence of cascading reduced audit quality practices (RAQP) as the teams respond to the paradoxes they face.

Originality/value

The authors reveal the interlinked and cumulative coping strategies, namely, downplaying responsibility and downscaling audit processes. These strategies are performed concurrently by team leaders and audit members to manage paradoxical tensions. The authors also identified superficial audit supervision as another type of RAQP performed by team leaders.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 32 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

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