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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

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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

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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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1096

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

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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. ahead-of-print no. ahead-of-print
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

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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…

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

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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. ahead-of-print no. ahead-of-print
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

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Article
Publication date: 12 March 2021

Leanne J. Morrison and Alan Lowe

Using a dialogic approach to narrative analysis through the lens of fairytale, this paper explores the shared construction of corporate environmental stories. The analysis…

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1137

Abstract

Purpose

Using a dialogic approach to narrative analysis through the lens of fairytale, this paper explores the shared construction of corporate environmental stories. The analysis provided aims to reveal the narrative messaging which is implicit in corporate reporting, to contrast corporate and stakeholder narratives and to bring attention to the ubiquity of storytelling in corporate communications.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper examines a series of events in which a single case company plays the central role. The environmental section of the case company's sustainability report is examined through the lens of fairytale analysis. Next, two counter accounts are constructed which foreground multiple stakeholder accounts and retold as fairytales.

Findings

The dialogic nature of accounts plays a critical role in how stakeholders understand the environmental impacts of a company. Storytelling mechanisms have been used to shape the perspective and sympathies of the report reader in favour of the company. We use these same mechanisms to create two collective counter accounts which display different sympathies.

Research limitations/implications

This research reveals how the narrative nature of corporate reports may be used to fabricate a particular perspective through storytelling. By doing so, it challenges the authority of the version of events provided by the company and gives voice to collective counter accounts which are shared by and can be disseminated to other stakeholders.

Originality/value

This paper provides a unique perspective to understanding corporate environmental reporting and the stories shared by and with external stakeholders by drawing from a novel link between fairytale, storytelling and counter accounting.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 34 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

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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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4414

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

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Article
Publication date: 1 September 2004

Alan Lowe

This paper discusses the impact and influences of the growth of postsocial relations on accounting practice. Aspects of the growth of knowledge cultures, which have been…

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2453

Abstract

This paper discusses the impact and influences of the growth of postsocial relations on accounting practice. Aspects of the growth of knowledge cultures, which have been argued to impact social and organizational arrangements, are discussed. Extending this view to accounting, we see accountants forming a distinctive knowledge culture with their own unique rules of how knowledge is constituted. These rules are embedded in accounting systems and practices. This paper suggests the need to further develop a research program that seeks to investigate accounting practice in local settings. The discussion in the paper is based on views which posit the growth of intimate links with epistemic objects within organizations and society. This paper argues that such ideas lead to an increasing tendency for us to experience the changes in societal relations and social arrangements as a compression of time and space. The paper relates these ideas to developments in the accounting research literature.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 17 no. 4
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

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Article
Publication date: 15 February 2016

Alan D. Lowe, Ivo De Loo and Yesh Nama

The purpose of this paper is to constructively discuss the meaning and nature of (theoretical) contribution in accounting research, as represented by Lukka and Vinnari…

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to constructively discuss the meaning and nature of (theoretical) contribution in accounting research, as represented by Lukka and Vinnari (2014) (hereafter referred to as LV). The authors aim is to further encourage debate on what constitutes management accounting theory (or theories) and how to modestly clarify contributions to the extant literature.

Design/methodology/approach

The approach the authors take can be seen as (a)n interdisciplinary literature sourced analysis and critique of the movement’s positioning and trajectory” (Parker and Guthrie, 2014, p. 1218). The paper also draws upon and synthesizes the present authors and other’s contributions to accounting research using actor network theory.

Findings

While a distinction between domain and methods theories … may appear analytically viable, it may be virtually impossible to separate them in practice. In line with Armstrong (2008), the authors cast a measure of doubt on the quest to significantly extend theoretical contributions from accounting research.

Research limitations/implications

Rather than making (apparently) grandiose claims about (theoretical) contributions from individual studies, the authors suggest making more modest claims from the research. The authors try to provide a more appropriate and realistic approach to the appreciation of research contributions.

Originality/value

The authors contribute to the debate on how theoretical contributions can be made in the accounting literature by constructively debating some views that have recently been outlined by LV. The aim is to provide some perspective on the usefulness of the criteria suggested by these authors. The authors also suggest and highlight (alternative) ways in which contributions might be discerned and clarified.

Details

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, vol. 29 no. 2
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 0951-3574

Keywords

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