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«Paul M. Collier Aston Business School, Aston University Accounting for Managers Accounting for Managers: Interpreting accounting information for ...»

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E. A. Lowe and J. L. J. Machin (eds), New Perspectives in Management Control. Macmillan, London.

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ACCOUNTING FOR MANAGERS

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Reading C

Covaleski, M. A., Dirsmith, M. W. and Samuel, S. (1996). Managerial accounting research:

The contributions of organizational and sociological theories. Journal of Management Accounting Research, 8, 1–35. Reproduced by permission of American Accounting Association.

Questions 1 Contrast contingency theory, interpretive and critical perspectives in terms of how each perspective can inform an understanding of management accounting.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of each paradigm?

2 What is the advantage of the ‘paradigmatic pluralism’ that Covaleski et al.

promote?

3 In undertaking management accounting research in an organizational setting, how would you determine the methods of enquiry that you would adopt?

Further reading Boland, J. R. J. and Pondy, L. R. (1983). Accounting in organizations: A union of natural and rational perspectives. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 8(2/3), 223–34.

Hopper, T. and Powell, A. (1985). Making sense of research into the organizational and social aspects of management accounting: A review of its underlying assumptions.

Journal of Management Studies, 22(5), 429–65.

Lowe, T. and Puxty, T. (1989). The problems of a paradigm: A critique of the prevailing orthodoxy in management control. In W. F. Chua, T. Lowe and T. Puxty (eds), Critical Perspectives in Management Control, London: Macmillan.

Neimark, M. and Tinker, T. (1986). The social construction of management control systems.

Accounting, Organizations and Society, 11(4/5), 369–95.

Otley, D. (1989). A strategy for the development of theories in management control. In W. F. Chua, T. Lowe and T. Puxty (eds), Critical Perspectives in Management Control, London: Macmillan.

Managerial Accounting Research:

The Contributions of Organizational and Sociological Theories Mark A. Covaleski University of Wisconsin–Madison

–  –  –

Abstract

Organizational and sociological theories explicitly recognize the centrality of issues of social control and coordination in organizations, thus providing intellectual approaches from which to study managerial accounting as important aspects of the manner in which organizations and society function. This paper examines various organizational and sociological perspectives which have provided meaningful contributions to our understanding of managerial accounting. The credibility of both the theoretical and methodological traditions which typically underpin these alternative organizational and sociological perspectives is then discussed. Finally, this paper considers the unique insights which organizational and sociological theories offer in contrast to more traditional managerial accounting research perspectives for understanding the multiple roles of management accounting in contemporary organizations.

Managerial accounting research, which has adapted organizational or sociological theories to examine the development, maintenance and change in managerial accounting practices, explicitly recognizes the centrality of issues of social control and coordination in organizations, thus providing intellectual approaches from which to study managerial accounting as problematic aspects of the organizational and social context. The purpose of our paper is to provide a critique We wish to thank Anthony Hopwood (Oxford University), John Meyer (Stanford University), Mike Shields (University of Memphis), and S. Mark Young (University of Southern California) for their many useful suggestions.

ACCOUNTING FOR MANAGERS

of the organizational and sociological theoretical traditions which have been used in managerial accounting research in order to facilitate understanding, and perhaps influence usage, by accounting scholars adopting more traditional research perspectives. In our effort to provide a sweeping critique of organizational and sociological perspectives, rather than a detailed and nuanced treatment of this stream of management accounting research from these theoretical perspectives, there are points of omission, under-representation, and compression of the multitude of views within these theoretical traditions. And yet, it is precisely through such a broad treatment that we hope to reveal the distinctiveness of these organizational and sociological research traditions which exhibit a cluster of tendencies that distinguish it from the more familiar research traditions which draw on neoclassical economics and contemporary social and organizational psychology.1 The paper is organized into four sections. The first section addresses the contributions which contingency theory has had in situating managerial accounting in the control processes and structures of organizations. Contingency theory (Thompson 1967; Perrow 1967; Lawrence and Lorsch 1969) represents a rich blend of organizational theory – i.e., it has roots in the organizational decision-making perspectives of the 1950s (Simon 1957; March and Simon 1958) – and sociological functionalist perspectives of organizations – i.e., it has roots in the sociological concerns about organizational structure of the 1960s (Burns and Stalker 1961;

Woodward 1965; Aiken and Hage 1966; Hickson 1966). Contingency theory took the insights on such critical organizational processes as decision-making and control as depicted in the literature on organizational decision-making and combined these with sociological functionalist concerns regarding the impact of such structural factors as environment, size, technology, etc., on organizational behavior.

Important to both the decision-making perspective of organizations and the sociological concerns for organizational structure are issues of organizational control and coordination. This explicit concern for issues of coordination and control, in turn, has provided important contributions to managerial accounting research in our understanding of such issues as the design of information and control systems, budgeting and strategic planning.

The second major section of this paper deals with the various organizational and sociological theories which concern themselves with the social construction Our focus on managerial accounting research motivated by organizational and sociological theories precludes this paper from addressing managerial accounting research generated from other theoretical traditions (economic, psychological, historical); nor does our paper address some excellent descriptive and applied work in managerial accounting. Here our approach complements such recent work as that of Young and Selto (1991) whose primary concern was to review the managerial accounting literature by topic, i.e., strategic cost accounting, product life cycle cost management, flexible manufacturing systems, etc., while embracing a variety of theoretical and non-theoretical work, albeit with less of an explicit focus on critiquing the theoretical traditions. McMann and Nanni (1996) took the same approach as Young and Selto (1991), however with a more specific focus on one topic – Japanese managerial accounting. This explicit focus allowed them to provide more insight on such critical subtopics as continuous improvement, quality, target costing, etc. – with the research once again cutting across theoretical and non-theoretical traditions, as well as across research methods.

MANAGERIAL ACCOUNTING RESEARCH 297

and spread of rationality and, in turn, the manner in which this rationality impacts the power and politics in organizational functioning (Weber 1947). These organizational and sociological theories – often referred to as interpretive perspectives – also draw from the organizational decision-making perspective (Simon 1957; March and Simon 1958), thus sharing intellectual heritage with contingency theory. We also see, however, the influence of more interpretive sociological traditions beginning with the work of Weber (1947) and his concerns for the ‘‘politics of rationality,’’ as well as the work of Berger and Luckmann (1967) (see also Garfinkel 1967) and their work on the social construction (the development of cognitive processes) and the manner which subjective meaning becomes objective facts. Specifically, we examine the relevance of interpretive perspectives by considering a number of organizational and social theories including institutional theory (Meyer and Rowan 1977; DiMaggio and Powell 1983), resource dependency theories (Pfeffer 1981), political perspectives (Edelman 1977; Wildavsky 1964), and the sociology of professions (Abbott 1988; Freidson 1986).



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