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Title: Calling out for more: Comment on the future of interpretive accounting research
Authors: Armstrong, Peter
First Published: Sep-2008
Publisher: Elsevier
Citation: Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 2008, 19 (6), pp. 867-879.
Abstract: This essay is a response to the ‘polyphonic debate’ on interpretive accounting research (Ahrens et al., this issue). The debate is considered first as a case study of the limitations of collaborative circles [Farrell MP. Collaborative circles: friendship dynamics and creative work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 2001.] as a means of developing a particular approach to research. Whilst they may serve to reassure the individual that s(h)e is part of a consequential community of practice, they tend to do so at the expense of suppressing the mutual criticism on which the development of clear and robust ideas depends. Further, because such circles aim to promote their approach as well as define it, intellectual development tends to become confused with, and possibly subsumed by, the politics of academic career-making. The paper then considers the case for interpretive accounting research as such. Because the polyphonic debate itself is uninformative in this respect, this consideration is based on a theoretical paper by Ahrens and Chapman [Ahrens T, Chapman C. Doing qualitative field research in management accounting: positioning data to contribute to theory. Accounting, Organisations and Society, 2006;31(8):819–41] and an ethnographic case study of organizational control by Ahrens and Mollona [Ahrens T, Mollona M. Organisational control as cultural practice—a shop floor ethnography of a sheffield steel mill. Accounting, Organisations and Society, 2007;32(4–5):305–496.] The burden of both papers is that interpretive research offers a radical alternative to ‘traditional’ positivist approaches and that it possesses a unique potential to contribute to theory. Neither of these contentions is borne out. The anti-positivism conventionally attributed to interpretive approaches is shown to be based on a misunderstanding whilst Ahrens and Mollona's illustrative case study turns out to be itself positivist and also to contribute very little to theories of organizational control. This last fault may lie as much with the expectation as with the ethnography itself. The kind of theory developed in the course of ethnographic interpretation is short-range and situation-specific rather than abstract and general. The paper concludes with a brief consideration of the manner in which the two levels of theorisation might relate to one another.
DOI Link: 10.1016/
ISSN: 1045-2354
Type: Article
Rights: This is the author's final draft of the paper published as Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 2008, 19 (6), pp. 867-879. The final version is available from Doi: 10.1016/
Appears in Collections:Published Articles, School of Management

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