The Accounting Discipline: Case Study Analyses of the Self-Image, Goal Orientation, Publication Practices and Social Connectedness of Academic Accountants
This paper begins with a review of the epistemological and sociological features of accounting. Accounting is seen to be a discipline whose knowledge is functional and utilitarian in nature, which is practice-oriented, which does not have a single dominant paradigm, which has a low level of theoretical consensus and a high level of disagreement over research methods, and which lacks a strong research tradition. The nature of accounting suggests that academic accountants as individuals may be pragmatic and business-oriented, that they have a penchant for counting and measuring, that they are comfortable with performance assessment and that they prefer to communicate knowledge rather than to search for it. Limited studies on psychological differences among American academics depict academic accountants as conservative, conformist, conventional, and as having stereotyped and simplistic views of the world. The explicit manipulation of data, records, or written material is within their domain, and money represents an important expression of their values. In researching, academic accountants use a range of methodologies, favour positivism, and tend to work alone rather than to collaborate. They value publishing in scholarly and professional journals; articles in the former tend to be lengthy and may take several years to reach publication stage. They have strong links with the professional accounting associations. Using case studies of four university accounting departments, the paper also explores four discipline-related analytical themes identified in the literature: self-image; goal orientation; forms and rates of publication; and social connectedness. Overall, the discipline themes assist in understanding workplace culture in academic accounting departments, as well as to make sense of the reactions of academic accountants to enforced change affecting work practices, values and beliefs. Any government policy which strikes at the heart of these fundamentals is likely to be resisted, as is any government imperative which threatens those things which accountants hold most dear—such as the primacy of teaching, and strong links with the profession including writing for professional journals. Add to this the disposition of academic accountants to think and behave in particular ways—conforming, conventional, stereotypical, constricted, simple and dependent—and the reactions of accounting staff to externally-imposed change begin to make sense.
Keywords: Nature of Accounting Discipline, Accounting's Impact on Academic Accountants, Culture of Academic Departments
Prof. Sheila Bellamy
Professor, School of Accounting and Law, RMIT University