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Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

Analysing accounting discourse: avoiding the fallacy of internalism


John Ferguson

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John Ferguson, (2007),"Analysing accounting discourse: avoiding the fallacy of internalism", Accounting,
Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 20 Iss 6 pp. 912 - 934
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Analysing accounting discourse:


avoiding the fallacy of
internalism

912
Received December 2005
Revised August 2006,
March 2007
Accepted March 2007

John Ferguson
School of Accounting & Finance, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK
Abstract

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Purpose The purpose of this paper is to elaborate on John B. Thompsons tripartite approach for
the analysis of mass media communication, highlighting how this methodological framework can help
address some of the shortcomings apparent in extant studies on accounting which purport to analyse
accounting texts.
Design/methodology/approach By way of example, the paper develops a critique of an existing
study in accounting that adopts a textually-oriented approach to discourse analysis by Gallhofer,
Haslam and Roper. This study, which is informed by Faircloughs version of critical discourse analysis
(CDA), undertakes an analysis of the letters of submission of two business lobby groups regarding
proposed takeovers legislation in New Zealand. A two-stage strategy is developed: first, to review the
extant literature which is critical of CDA, and second, to consider whether these criticisms apply to
Gallhofer et al. Whilst acknowledging that Gallhofer et al.s (2001) study is perhaps one of the more
comprehensive in the accounting literature, the critique developed in the present paper nevertheless
highlights a number of limitations. Based upon this critique, an alternative framework is proposed
which allows for a more comprehensive analysis of accounting texts.
Findings The critique of Gallhofer et al.s study highlights what is arguably an overemphasis on
the internal characteristics of text: this is referred to by Thompson as the fallacy of internalism. In
other words, Gallhofer et al. draw inferences regarding the production of the letters of submission from
the texts themselves, and make implicit assumptions about the likely effects of these texts without
undertaking any formal analysis of their production or reception, or without paying sufficient
attention to the social and historical context of their production or reception.
Originality/value Drawing on Thompsons theory of mass communication and his explication of
the hermeneutical conditions of social-historical enquiry, the paper outlines a range of theoretical
considerations which are pertinent to researchers interested in studying accounting texts. Moreover,
building on these theoretical considerations, the paper delineates a coherent and flexible
methodological framework, which, it is hoped, may guide accounting researchers in this area.
Keywords Accounting, Discourse, Text, Hermeneutics
Paper type Conceptual paper

Accounting, Auditing &


Accountability Journal
Vol. 20 No. 6, 2007
pp. 912-934
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
0951-3574
DOI 10.1108/09513570710830290

Introduction
Interest in language and discourse, and in particular, in how language is linked to
wider social processes, has spread across a range of social science disciplines over
recent years (Fairclough, 1992). However, whilst interest in discourse has become
fashionable, the term is often used indiscriminately without being defined or
clearly explained (Phillips and Jorgensen, 2002, p. 1). As Fairclough (1992, p. 3) notes,
discourse is a difficult and contested concept, with many conflicting and
overlapping definitions formulated from various theoretical and disciplinary
standpoints (see also, Phillips and Jorgensen, 2002). For example, in linguistics the

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term discourse is most commonly taken to refer to instances of written and spoken
dialogue, although it is sometimes used exclusively to refer to spoken dialogue as
opposed to written text (Fairclough, 1992). Another use of the term within linguistics is
to refer to the various types of language employed in different social situations; for
example, newspaper discourse, medical consultation discourse (Fairclough, 1989, 1992,
Van Dijk, 1998; Wodak and Meyer, 2001). Outside of linguistics, the term discourse has
been predominantly associated with the work of Michel Foucault. Foucaults work on
discourse is more abstract than the textually orientated approaches associated with
linguistics. In other words, Foucault is not concerned with the analysis of spoken and
written language texts, but with the rules which determine which statements are
accepted as meaningful and true in a particular historical epoch (Phillips and
Jorgensen, 2002, p. 12; see also, Fairclough, 1992).
Whilst the studies of discourse outlined in the literature may be different in terms of
their approach and focus of analysis, most share the assumption that our ways of
talking (and writing) about the world, do not neutrally reflect our world, identities and
social relations but, rather, play an active role in creating and changing them (Phillips
and Jorgensen, 2002, p. 1). In this sense, these approaches to discourse analysis are
premised on, to a greater or lesser extent, social constructionism[1]; for example,
Phillips and Hardy (2002, p. 2) state, the things that make up the social world
including our very identities appear out of discourse . . . without discourse, there is
no social reality, and without discourse, we cannot understand social reality (see also,
Grant et al., 2004; Heracleous, 2004).
The increasing interest in language and discourse throughout the social sciences
has had a notable impact on accounting research: numerous studies in accounting
reflect the different approaches to analysing discourse and language that dominate the
area. As Gallhofer et al. (2001) point out, many of these studies may not necessarily
draw on explicit methods associated with discourse analysis, but they all share an
interest in examining aspects of accounting language or language used in relation to
accounting. These wide ranging analyses are predominantly textually oriented,
focusing on specific accounting texts such as annual reports (Abeysekera and
Guthrie, 2005; Beattie et al., 2004; Freedman and Stagliano, 2002), social and
environmental reports (Buhr and Freedman, 2001; Freedmanm and Jaggi, 2005; Laine,
2005; Livesey, 2002; Livesey and Kearins, 2002; Tregidga and Milne, 2006) and
textbooks (Davidson, 2005; Ferguson et al., 2005). In keeping with its prevalent use in
the accounting literature, the term discourse will be employed in the current study to
refer to instances of written or spoken language. In other words, the majority of studies
in accounting use the term discourse in the same sense in which it is most commonly
employed in linguistics: i.e. to refer to instances of written or spoken text (Fairclough,
2003). In this respect, the terms discourse and text are often used
interchangeably[2] and can be taken, as they are in this paper, to broadly refer to
written text, but may also include transcripts of interviews, web-pages and visual
images (Fairclough, 2003).
While there is much which is commendable in extant studies of accounting
discourse and language, this paper argues, drawing on Thompson (1990), that they
have one major limitation: they assume, or speculate upon, the likely effects of
accounting texts, without thoroughly investigating how these texts are interpreted by
the individuals who encounter them in their everyday lives, or considering, in any

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specific detail, the social-historical contexts of text production, transmission and


reception. Thompson (1990, p. 105) describes any attempt to read off issues regarding
the production or reception of texts by attending to the text alone as the fallacy of
internalism[3]. For example, he states:
It is a fallacy because it cannot be assumed that the characteristics which the analyst discerns
in a particular cultural product will have a given effect when the product is received and
appropriated by individuals in the course of their everyday lives. The reception and
appropriation of cultural products is a complex social process which involves an ongoing
activity of interpretation and the assimilation of meaningful content to the socially structured
background characteristics of particular individuals and groups. To attempt to read off the
consequences of cultural products from the products themselves is to neglect these ongoing
activities of interpretation and assimilation; it is to speculate about the impact of these
products on the attitudes and behavior of individuals without examining this impact in a
systematic way (Thompson, 1990, emphasis added)[4].

The theoretical considerations advanced by Thompson (1990), and the conjoining


methodological framework he develops, have found advocates in the accounting
literature (for example, Arnold, 1998; Oakes et al., 1994)[5]. Most notably, Oakes et al.
(1994) examine cost benefit studies in the medical literature, drawing on Thompsons
(1990) depth-hermeneutical framework. Their study emphasises the importance of not
only focusing on the text (i.e. the cost-benefit study) but expanding the focus beyond the
accounting context of individual studies to look at the production and distribution of cost
benefit studies in health care . . . [and] the reception and appropriation of these studies
(Oakes et al., 1994, p. 20). Consideration of both the reception and appropriation of text is,
according to Oakes et al. (1994) of fundamental importance in an accounting context
given the (codified) nature of accounting discourse. They state:
Others may protest that the author is not responsible for the reception or use of the message,
and the message stands apart from the receiver of the message . . . This argument may make
more sense to those who consider themselves artists than to accountants who represent
themselves as being explicitly concerned with the users of accounting numbers. However, the
relationship between the text, the author and the reader presents problems that we do not
often think about (Oakes et al., 1994, p. 22, emphasis added).

In this respect, Thompsons framework for analysis requires a shift in emphasis; not only
is the text or discursive event the focus of analysis but also the institutions and
structures surrounding their production and reception, and the understanding of
individuals involved in their production and reception (Arnold, 1998; Oakes et al., 1994).
This paper focuses on Thompsons framework for the analysis of mass media
communication. It proceeds as follows: the next section outlines some theoretical
considerations applicable to the study of accounting texts. In particular, this section
draws attention to important aspects of culture and social enquiry that highlight the
significance of considering aspects of production and reception when analysing
discourse. Drawing on these theoretical concerns, the subsequent section develops a
critique of an existing study in accounting, Gallhofer et al. (2001), which undertakes a
textual analysis of the written submissions made by the New Zealand Business
Roundtable and the Institute of Directors regarding a proposed takeovers Code.
Gallhofer et al.s (2001) analysis is informed by Norman Faircloughs version of critical
discourse analysis (CDA): a review of the extant literature which is critical of CDA and,
in particular, Faircloughs version of it, is presented, and followed by a critique of

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Gallhofer et al.s (2001) study. This section is then followed by a delineation of


Thompsons tripartite approach for the analysis of mass communication, highlighting
how this methodological framework addresses a number of the limitations apparent in
Gallhofer et al.s study, and moreover, in the extant accounting literature in general.
The final section concludes.
Analysing accounting texts: some theoretical considerations
When analysing various forms of discourse, such as annual reports, social and
environmental reports or accounting textbooks, a range of theoretical concerns relating
to the nature of culture, communication and social enquiry should be considered. These
concerns are addressed in this section under the sub-headings, Culture and The
nature of mass communication. This section therefore serves two related purposes:
firstly, it will form the basis for developing a critique of existing studies of accounting
texts; secondly, the theoretical issues outlined here have extremely important
methodological implications, which will be further developed in the penultimate
section of the paper.
Culture
Drawing on anthropological concepts of culture, Thompson (1990, p. 123) distinguishes
between what he describes as descriptive and symbolic conceptions of culture. A
descriptive concept of culture refers to the army of beliefs, customs, laws, forms of
knowledge and art etc. which are acquired by individuals as members of a particular
society and which can be studied scientifically (Thompson, 1990, p. 128). This concept
is associated with, in particular, the work of E.B. Taylor, who stipulated that the
culmination of a societys different beliefs and customs formed a complex whole which
could be studied as the object of a systematic scientific enquiry (Thompson, 1990, p.
128). In this regard, a descriptive conception of culture is concerned with the
classification of different elements of a culture, which would enable comparisons with
other cultures and the formulation of laws, often with the view to re-assembling the
steps that led from savagery to civilized life (Thompson, 1990, p. 129).
By contrast, the symbolic conception of culture takes the view that culture is a
shared system of symbols and signs. Underpinning this concept of culture is the idea
that human beings not only produce and receive meaningful linguistic expressions,
but also bestow meaning on non-linguistic constructions on actions, works of art,
material objects of various kinds (Thompson, 1990, p. 130). Thus, it is through the
ordered clusters of significant symbols that man makes sense of the events through
which he lives (Geertz, 1973, p. 363). In this sense, a symbolic conception of culture
requires a shift in analysis from the classification and comparison associated with the
descriptive concept, to a focus on the interpretation of meaning ascribed to symbolic
forms[6]. According to Thompson (1990, p. 138), symbolic forms are expressions of a
subject . . . for a subject (or subjects) and may include images or written text as well as
actions and utterances. In this respect, accounting reports may be conceived of as
symbolic forms, and a cultural analysis of accounting may focus on the interpretation
and meaning ascribed to such reports. As Thompson (1990, pp. 131-2, emphasis added)
states, a symbolic conception of culture has little to do with the formulation of laws
and predictions . . . it is more like interpreting a literary text.

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In formulating his own conception of culture, Thompson (1990) takes a symbolic


approach, drawing in particular on the work of anthropologist Clifford Geertz. In a
widely quoted passage, Geertz (1973, p. 5) argues that:
[. . .] man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun. I take culture to
be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of
law, but an interpretative one in search of meaning.

Accordingly, the role of the researcher is to unravel layers of meaning, describing


actions and expressions which are already meaningful for the very individuals who are
producing, perceiving and interpreting these actions (Thompson, 1990, p.131,
emphasis in original). However, Thompson (1990) outlines a number of difficulties with
Geertzs conception, in particular, his failure to give sufficient consideration to issues of
power and conflict, or to the social context within which cultural phenomena are
produced, transmitted and received. In building on Geertzs symbolic conception,
Thompson (1990, p.136, emphasis in original) develops what he calls a structural
conception, which stresses the symbolic character of cultural phenomena and the fact
that such phenomena are always embedded in structured social contexts. In other
words, cultural phenomena are produced, transmitted and received within particular
social contexts which may be characterised by asymmetrical relations of power [or]
by different access to resources and opportunities (Thompson, 1990, p. 136).
Two key issues emerge from Thompsons (1990) structural conception of culture,
which are important for researchers interested in engaging in the analysis of symbolic
forms (such as accounting texts). First, symbolic forms already have meaning for actors
involved in their production, transmission and reception; i.e. such cultural phenomena will
be routinely interpreted by actors in the course of their everyday lives. Therefore, to
understand the meaning of symbolic forms, or to interpret their significance, the analyst
must consider what these forms mean to the actors who encounter them. Second, the
historically specific and socially structured contexts in which the symbolic forms are
produced, transmitted and received should not be neglected i.e. the relations of power,
institutions, available resources and forms of authority.
The nature of mass communication
Modern culture, according to Thompson (1990) has emerged from, and is closely
interwoven with, the development of mass communication. Hence, Thompsons (1990)
view of the development of the modern state is markedly different from the grand
narrative of cultural transformation which stems from the work of Marx, in particular,
and which underpins much contemporary social theory. According to this grand
narrative, the rise of industrial capitalism in Europe is attributed to the decline of
religious beliefs and the emergence of secular belief systems. While Thompson (1990,
p. 11) acknowledges the important insights this grand-narrative has provided, he
argues that such theories have mis-identified the major cultural transformation
associated with the development of modern societies; i.e. the proliferation of
institutions of mass communication (a process which Thompson(1990) refers to as the
mediazation of modern culture.
Given the importance Thompson (1990) ascribes to the emergence of mass
communication in modern culture, he outlines a number of characteristics of this
phenomenon that are important for researchers to consider when analysing symbolic

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forms (such as accounting texts). First, the term mass communication can be
misleading in some respects; especially since it conjures up the image of a vast audience
comprising many thousands, even millions of individuals (Thompson, 1995, p. 24).
While in some sections of the media industry (for example, mass circulation newspapers)
audiences are large, in other sectors, such as some book and magazine publishing, the
audience can be relatively quite small and specialised (Thompson, 1990, 1995). In this
respect, the term mass communication should not be construed in narrowly
quantitative terms but more broadly taken to refer to media messages produced for a
plurality of recipients (Thompson, 1995, p. 24; see also, Thompson, 1990). In other
words, mass communication refers to messages which are available in principle to a
number of recipients (Thompson, 1995, p. 24). Given that most accounting texts (for
example, annual reports or social and environmental reports), tend to be explicitly
communicated to a range of users (Oakes et al., 1994), one could argue that such
examples of accounting communication accord with Thompsons (1990, 1995) definition
of mass communication i.e. available in principal to a number of recipients.
The term mass communication can be misleading in another respect, in that it
suggests the recipients of media messages constitute a vast sea of passive,
undifferentiated individuals who fail to question, or engage critically with mass
communication (Thompson, 1995, p.24). However, such a view fails to consider the
complex ways in which symbolic forms are appropriated by individuals. Furthermore,
the term communication can also be potentially ambiguous, since it can be taken to
refer to a dialogical situation like a conversation. However, the communication in
mass communication refers to a one way flow of messages from the transmitter to the
receiver (Thompson, 1990, p. 220). Therefore, Thompson (1990) suggests that the terms
transmission or diffusion are more appropriate terms. In this respect, mass media
institutes a fundamental break between the producers and receivers (Thompson, 1990,
p. 220, emphasis in original); i.e. mass media messages are produced for recipients who
are absent from the site of production, and therefore have a limited capacity to contribute
to the communicative process. Again, this structured break is a feature of most
accounting communication, whereby reports (for example, annual reports or social and
environmental reports) are produced in the absence of the users of such reports.
As a consequence of this break Thompson (1990, p. 220, emphasis in original) states
that the process of transmission is characterised by a distinctive form of
indeterminacy, whereby audience responses are largely absent. In this respect,
producers employ a range of strategies to secure the effectiveness of symbolic forms,
for example, by conducting market research, monitoring audiences or by using
well-tried formulas which have a predictable audience appeal (Thompson, 1990, p.
221). In the context of accounting, such tried and tested formulas may be employed in
the production of symbolic forms such as the annual report; for example, the
abstractions articulated in accounting language which are often a feature of the
chairmans statement (Amernic and Craig, 2006, p. 81). Similarly, companies may seek
to reduce indeterminacy by undertaking stakeholder engagement as part of their
social, ethical and environmental reporting activities. By canvassing stakeholder
opinions, companies are then able to appropriate the information they disclose in the
public domain (Cummings, 2001, p. 45; Owen et al., 2001). However, what is key
regarding these techniques and strategies employed by producers to reduce
indeterminacy is that they are institutional mechanisms and employed in a way

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which concurs with the overall aims of the institutions concerned (Thompson, 1990,
p. 221). This structured break between producer and recipient has important
methodological implications for the analysis of symbolic forms that will be discussed
further in the third section of this paper.
Drawing on the theoretical considerations outlined above, we can discern two key
issues that are relevant to the study of mass mediated symbolic forms (such as annual
reports or social and environmental reports). These are:
(1) According to Thompsons structural conception of culture, culture is
characterised by the production and reception of symbolic forms. Therefore, the
analysis of symbolic forms requires consideration of their production,
transmission and reception, as well as the social and historical contexts of this
activity.
(2) Mass communication institutes a structured break between producer and
recipient. Therefore, consideration should be given to the institutional
mechanisms of production and diffusions as well as the nature of the
audience and their appropriation of symbolic forms.
Therefore, while discourse or formal analysis will shed light on the patterns and
devices which structure texts, it is not possible to read off the characteristics of
production or the consequences of such texts by recourse to this form of analysis alone
(Thompson, 1990, p. 291; see also, Thompson, 1984). This failure to consider the
processes of both production and reception, and the social historical conditions of these
activities is referred to by Thompson (1990, p. 291) as the fallacy of internalism.
The following section critiques a study in the accounting literature which
undertakes a textually orientated approach to the analysis of accounting discourse:
Gallhofer et al. (2001); by drawing on the theoretical concerns outlined above, this
critique will argue that Gallhofer et al. (2001) overemphasise the internal characteristics
of the text, and pay insufficient attention to issues of production and reception as well
as to the social and historical conditions in which they are embedded. In this sense, and
despite the merits of the work, Gallhofer et al.s (2001) analysis falls into the fallacy of
internalism.
Prior research into aspects of accounting discourse Gallhofer et al.
(2001)
The extant literature on accounting discourse and language is extremely diverse,
covering many different foci of analyses (for example, annual reports, social and
environmental reports, Chairmens statements, etc), and considering many different
aspects of language and approaches to text analysis (for example, content, rhetoric,
narrative, metaphor, etc.). While the present paper restricts its critique to one such
study (Gallhofer et al., 2001) the criticisms that are advanced are applicable to the
wide-range of research that purports to undertake a textually oriented approach to the
analysis of accounting discourse. While any one of these studies could have been
subjected to a more developed critique, Gallhofer et al. (2001) was selected because the
framework from which they draw (Faircloughs version of critical discourse analysis)
explicitly considers the production and reception of texts. In this respect, Gallhofer
et al.s (2001) study could be considered to be more comprehensive than other textually
orientated approaches in the accounting literature, and less likely to fall foul of the

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fallacy of internalism. However, as I seek to argue, there are serious problems with
Faircloughs framework which prevents a full consideration of issues of production
and reception; problems which also apply to Gallhoffer et al. (2001).
The following section provides an overview of CDA and is followed by a synopsis of
Gallhoffer et al.s (2001) paper. A two-stage argumentative strategy is then developed:
first, to review the extent literature which is critical of CDA, and second, to consider
whether these criticisms apply to Gallhofer et al. (2001).
CDA
CDA has emerged as a major field of research over the last 20 years, reaching a mature
stage of incorporation into academic journals (McKenna, 2004, p.9). CDA draws on
traditions within linguistics, such as classical rhetoric, text linguistics, pragmatics and
sociolinguistics, and can be viewed as a continuation of the work carried out in the 1970s
and 1980s at the University of East Anglia by Fowler, Trew and Kress: the work of these
pioneering authors laid the foundations for critical linguistics (Fowler et al., 1979;
Wodak, 2001). The principle aim of CDA is to highlight the relationship between
language use and unequal relations of power (Fairclough, 1989).
There exist a number of approaches within CDA, which, like approaches to
discourse in general, range from textually orientated research to more abstract work,
drawing on social theory (Fairclough, 1992; Meyer, 2001). However, as Blommaert
(2005) notes, the use of Hallidayan systemic functional linguistics is prominent across a
number of approaches. In fact, the pervasiveness of Hallidays influence in CDA has led
Wodak (2001, p. 8) to stipulate that an understanding of the basic claims of Hallidays
grammar and his approach to linguistic analysis is essential for a proper
understanding of CDA.[7].
As mentioned previously, Gallhofer et al. (2001) take an approach to CDA which draws
on the work of Norman Fairclough, whose version of CDA is often considered to fall
between textually orientated and social theory approaches to discourse (referred to by
Meyer (2001, p. 22) as a middle-range theory position). Faircloughs version of CDA aims
to develop an approach to language analysis which combines methods from linguistics
with insights from social and political theory. In this regard, Fairclough cites Hallidays
systemic functional linguistics as being influential regarding the former, and a range of
social theorists, including, Antonio Gramsci, Loius Althusser, Michel Foucault, Jurgen
Habermass and Anthony Giddens with regard to the latter (Fairclough, 1992, p. 1).
In sketching his social theory of discourse, Fairclough (2003, p. 205) emphasises the
dialectical relationship between discourse (including language but also other forms of
semiosis, e.g. body language or visual images) and other elements of social practice. In
this sense, Fairclough (1992, p. 64) views discursive practice as being shaped and
constrained by social structure such as class, institutions, norms and conventions, as
well as contributing to the constitution of all those dimensions of social structure
which directly or indirectly shape and constrain it. In conceptualising the norms and
conventions that underlie discourse practice, Fairclough adopts the Foucauldian term
order of discourse. For Fairclough (1993, p. 135) the order of discourse of a social
domain is the:
[. . .] totality of its discourse practices, and the relationships (of complementarity,
inclusion/exclusion, opposition) between them- for instance in schools, the discursive
practices of the classroom, of assessed written work, of the playground, and of the staff room.

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And the order of discourse of a society is the set of these more local orders of discourse, and
relationships between them (e.g. the relationship between the order of discourse of the school
and those of the home or the neighbourhood).

In categorising types of discourse practice, Fairclough (1993, p. 135) distinguishes


between discourses (discourse as a count noun), which refer to areas of experience
from a particular perspective (for example, patriarchal versus feminist discourses of
sexuality) and genres, which refer to the uses of language associated with a particular
social activity such as a job interview.
In order to explore the relationships between discursive events, Fairclough (1992,
p. 72) develops a three-dimensional framework, each dimension of which is
indispensable for discourse analysis:
(1) discourse as text;
(2) discourse as discourse practice; and
(3) discourse as social practice (see also, Fairclough, 1989; 1995).
Each aspect of this framework is briefly summarised below.
At the level of analysis of discourse as text, the focus of analysis is on written or
transcribed text. As mentioned, Faircloughs analysis of the structural features of text
is influenced by Hallidays systemic functional linguistics, although the work in other
fields linguistics also plays a role. Broadly speaking, Fairclough (1992, 1995) organises
his analysis according to vocabulary, grammar, cohesion and text structure. At the
level of analysis of discourse as discourse practice, the focus is on the production,
distribution and consumption of text, in particular, socio-cognitive aspects of text
production and interpretation. Discourse practice, according to Fairclough (1992, p. 80)
is constrained by members resources which are effectively internalised social
structures, norms and conventions, including orders of discourse, and conventions for
the production, distribution and consumption of texts (see also, Fairclough, 1989,
1993, 1995). Drawing on the work of Bakhtin and Kristeva, the concept of
intertextuality plays a prominent role in the consideration of aspects of production,
transmission and reception. This concept and its application by Fairclough will be
considered in more detail below in the section that discusses existing criticisms of
CDA. At the level of discourse as social practice, analysis is concerned with context,
including the institutional context and the wider societal context. Of particular concern
to Fairclough (1989, 1992, 1993, 1995) is the relationship between power and discourse
and, more specifically, how control of discursive practice can be viewed as hegemonic
struggles over orders of discourse.
Gallhofer et al. (2001) takeovers legislation in New Zealand
Gallhofer et al. (2001, p. 130) explain that New Zealands western economy and society
has followed other countries by moving in the direction of neo-liberalist economic
polity. The New Zealand National Partys pursued an agenda of updating company
law (including regulation, financial institutions and takeovers) in light of updates
which had occurred in other Anglo-American countries. However no definite
legislative regulatory agenda was pursued by the National Party just a general
increased openness to neo-liberal economic policy (Gallhofer et al., 2001). With regard
to takeovers, a Bill was drafted which proposed a Takeovers Code and Takeovers

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Panel. A Takeovers Panel Advisory Committee was charged with drawing up the Code
that was to be used in governing the conduct of takeovers. Submissions were sent to
the committee so that the views of interested parties could be considered. The
submissions sent to the committee evidenced significant differences (Gallhofer et al.,
2001, p. 132); in particular, the New Zealand Business Roundtable (NZBR) opposed the
code, and the Institute of Directors (IOD), supported it. The analysis undertaken by
Gallhofer et al. (2001) concerns the letters of submission sent by prominent
spokespersons from these two organisations. Gallhofer et al. (2001) point out that,
although both groups are free market advocates, analysis shows the IOD to be more
traditional and the NZBR to be pushing for a response to demands of international
capitalism.
At the level of textual analysis, Gallhofer et al. (2001) focus on the vocabulary of the
texts and the use of keywords such as regulation and code which differed markedly
between the two submissions. For example, in the NZBR texts, takeovers are presented
as value creating whilst the IOD denies that the legislation poses any threat to
takeover activity, stating that the code, does not prevent takeovers. The NZBR text
denotes that takeover activity engenders economic efficiency and economic welfare
and that the takeovers code is therefore a threat to these perceived benefits. The IOD on
the other hand, emphasises that takeover activity can be unfair to minority
shareholders, and that the code is a welcome increase in fairness (Gallhofer et al.,
2001, p. 134).
At the level of discourse practice, Gallhofer et al. (2001) place emphasis on the
production of texts, where significant differences are found. In particular, the IOD
emphasise practical experience, whereas the NZBR emphasise the support of experts.
Therefore, it was the type of support that [each group] deemed appropriate to mobilize
their case which was the marked difference between the two submissions (Gallhofer
et al., 2001, p. 136). For example, the NZBR evidences expert research (which they
commissioned), whilst the IOD submission details past abuses in takeovers (drawing
on a supporting letter from the Securities Comission). Gallhofer et al. (2001, p. 137) add
that the type of research mobilised to buttress the NZBR case is US mainstream
finance research, which is presented in a manner which appears scientific and
neutral.
At the level of analysis of discourse as social practice, Gallhofer et al. (2001, p. 138)
analyse the texts in terms of hegemonic struggle, stating that discourse can be located
in a hegemonic struggle to effect a subtle shift in hegemony further towards
neo-liberalist polity. According to Gallhofer et al. (2001, p. 139), this is apparent in the
perspectival differences in the submissions made by both the IOD and the NZBR; in
particular, while the IOR reflected New Zealand traditional values the NZBR
emphasised international capitalism. Whilst these perspectives may reflect the
self-interests of both organisations, Gallhofer et al. (2001) maintain that they also reflect
wider social struggle. Gallhofer et al. (2001) also point out that, in mobilising their case,
the NZBR closely aligned themselves with other sympathetic groups (for example, the
Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) who sponsored a lot of the academic research used
in the NZBRs submission).
In their concluding remarks Gallhofer et al. (2001) suggest that the IOD could have
done more to win the battle over research resources, as a means of taking advantage
of language and discourse in the struggle over polity.

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Criticisms of CDA
In order to adequately assess Gallhofer et al.s (2001) study it is first of all imperative to
consider the extant literature which is critical of CDA and, in particular, Faircloughs
version of it. Criticisms of CDA are wide ranging: for example, commentators have
noted that the interpretations offered by CDA tend to be politically motivated as
opposed to linguistically motivated (Stubbs, 1997); rely on a nave sociological model
based on a macro-sociological theory in which there only two parties - the oppressors
and the oppressed (Hammersley, 1997, p. 245; see also, Hammersley, 2003); offer little
justification or rational regarding the texts which are selected for analysis
(Widdowson, 2004) and; do not consider any sense of history (Blommaert, 2005).
However, one criticism is notable for its pervasiveness: that CDA does not analyse
how a text can be read in many ways, or under what social circumstances it is
produced and consumed (Blommaert, 2005, p. 31).
Perhaps the most resonant of these critiques comes from Henry Widdowson,
whose expertise lies in applied linguistics (Haig, 2004). For Widdowson (2004) the
central problem with CDA is that it fails to make a distinction between text and
discourse, and the two terms tend to be used synonymously in the field. Widdowson
(2004, p. 8) draws a clear distinction between the two terms: text is the overt linguistic
trace of a discourse process and thus, the product of discourse, whereas discourse
refers to the process of communication and interpretation whereby language is used to
engage our extralinguistic reality. Therefore, while discourse is the pragmatic
process of meaning negotiation, text is the product (Widdowson, 2004). Blommaert
(2005, p. 32) also comments on this issue, stating that CDA collapses semantics and
pragmatics: pragmatics is, in fact, reduced to semantics. This becomes a problem
when one considers the structured break which Thompson (1990) refers to. Indeed,
Widdowson (2004, p. 12) also anticipates these difficulties, where he notes that in the
case of written texts, the participants in the discourse process are separated, giving rise
to the following:
[. . .] discourse which the writer intends the text to record as output . . . [which is] always likely
to be different from the discourse which the reader derives from it. In other words, what a
writer means by a text is not the same as what a text means to a reader.

Despite the explicit consideration of the production and reception of texts in


Faircloughs three dimensional framework, it has been widely observed that this
routinely fails to play a part in Faircloughs analysis of text (Blommaert, 2005;
Pennycook, 2003; Stubbs, 1997; Widdowson, 2000, 2004). In Faircloughs work we find
the insistence that:
[. . .] analysis of a particular discourse as a piece of discursive practice focuses on processes of
text production, distribution and consumption. All the processes are social and require
reference to the particular economic, political and institutional settings within which
discourse is generated (Fairclough, 1992, p. 71; see also, Fairclough, 1989, 1993, 1995).

This leads to the necessary questions: Why is it important to focus on text production
and reception?, and How does one approach this in analysis?. According to Stubbs
(1997), despite having been asked these questions in respect of CDA for a long time,
answers are not forthcoming. One reason was proffered by a leading proponent of
critical linguistics (and to whom Fairclough acknowledges an intellectual debt)
Fowler (1996, p. 7), who notes that the reader simply is not theorized.

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By Faircloughs (1992, p. 72) own admission, one can [not] reconstruct the production
process purely by reference to texts. Fairclough (1992, p. 72) attempts to get round this
problem by suggesting that one way of linking this emphasis on discursive practice and
processes of text production, distribution and consumption of the text itself is to focus on
the intertextuality of the latter (see also, Fairclough, 1989, 1993, 1995) According to
Fairclough (1992, p. 84) intertexuality is basically the property of texts having snatches
of other texts. Fairclough outlines three features of intertexuality to correspond with the
processes of production, distribution and reception. For production, intertexuality refers
to the historicity of texts, and how they consist of remnants of prior texts. In terms of
distribution, intertextuality explores the networks that texts move along and the
transformations they undertake as they move from one text type to another, for
example, a political speech to a news report (Fairclough, 1992, p. 84; see also, Fairclough,
1989, 1993, 1995). In terms of interpretation, an intertextual perspective implies that
interpreters bring a range of texts to the interpretative process which will shape their
understanding of a text. It seems clear that intertextuality represents only a very partial
step towards the analysis of the process whose importance Fairclough repeatedly
emphasises the production, distribution and reception of texts. What is more,
Fairclough does not make it clear how the analyst is to explore such intertextual features
(beyond the use of conjecture and speculation).
Again, Fairclough (1992, p. 86) is quick to acknowledge the limitations of his work,
stating, how people interpret texts in various circumstances is a question requiring
separate investigation, although he also notes that such empirical work does not appear
in his own book. Such qualifications are familiar features of Faircloughs work; for
example, Fairclough (1993) sets out to illustrate his three dimensional model with samples
of discourse from higher education (including advertisements for a lectureship, course
materials and a CV). Again, while emphasising the need to apply all three analytical
elements of his framework, Fairclough (1993) himself, for reasons of space only
undertakes a systematic analysis (i.e. applying all three levels) to one of the three
examples: the advertisement. However, this illustration tells us very little about
production, distribution or consumption. In fact, only one small paragraph is devoted to
the discussion of discourse practice (drawing primarily on intertextuality), which tells us
that the advertisements are interdiscursively complex, articulating a variety of genres
and discourses, including elements of advertising and other promotional genres
(Fairclough, 1993, p. 146). It seems hardly surprising that an advertisement for a job
should draw on elements of advertising genres moreover, beyond mere speculation,
Fairclough (1993) offers no formal analysis of how this is so, what an advertising genre
looks like, and what features of such a genre are explicit in each advertisement. In short,
not only is Faircloughs application of intertextuality remarkably unconvincing, it tells us
virtually nothing about aspects of the production, distribution and consumption of text.
In a more recent work (Fairclough, 2003), the reader again is told that the causal
effects of texts and the ideological effects of texts can not be got at by recourse to text
analysis alone. In this sense, Fairclough (2003, p. 15) suggests that one needs to look at
interpretations of texts as well as texts themselves . . . which suggests that textual
analysis is best framed within ethnography. However, no examples of this ethnographic
research are offered in his text, neither is there a clear exposition of what it might entail
nor the theoretical justification for its need. As Haig (2004, p. 16) points out: here again
we find a gap between the talk of CDA and the walk: lip service is paid to the importance

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of such matters but the sleeves rolled-up, dirty handed business of actually producing
the work is severely lacking. Similarly, speaking specifically of Faircloughs version of
CDA, Widdowson (1998, p. 143) vehemently stresses that the intentions of producers and
consumers of texts are vicariously inferred from the analysis itself, by reference to what
the analyst assumes in advance to be the writers ideological position. Therefore, despite
Faircloughs explication of a three dimensional framework, where the second dimension
(discourse as discourse practice) claims to consider the production, distribution and
consumption of a text and how it is interpreted by individuals, as Widdowson (1998, p.
143) argues, the producers and consumers of texts are never consulted [and] no attempt
is ever made to establish, empirically what writers might have intended by their texts
(see also, Pennycook, 2003).
Extending the critique Gallhofer et al. (2001)
Despite CDAs emergence as a distinct field of study which has become widely adopted
in a range of social science disciplines, it has received little attention in the accounting
literature. In this respect, as well as others, Gallhofer et al.s (2001) paper is
praiseworthy. Whilst there have been a few studies in the general area of business,
management and accounting which have adopted a CDA approach, these studies have
often amounted to little more than a close critical reading of text (Laine, 2005) or have
restricted their analysis to one aspect of CDA, such as recontextualisation (see Thomas,
2003)[8]. In this respect, Gallhofer et al. (2001) represents the first (and only of which
the author is aware) real attempt to fully apply CDA in an analysis of accounting
discourse. In doing so, as mentioned previously, Gallhofer et al. (2001) utilise all three
dimensions of Faircloughs framework for analysis.
The critique of Gallhofer et al. (2001) developed in this section will focus on one
specific aspect of their analysis - the level of discourse practice. This level in Faircloughs
framework is the one which explicitly addresses the production, transmission and
reception of text. However, as noted in the preceding section, a number of commentators
have highlighted a range of problems associated with the adoption of this analysis- in
particular, the lack of consultation with the actors involved in the production,
transmission and reception of texts. Drawing on these criticisms, the present paper will
assess the extent to which they apply to Gallhofer et al.s (2001) study.
As discussed above, at this level of analysis, Gallhofer et al. (2001, p. 136) focus on
the credibility of argumentation employed by the two lobby groups and, in
particular, the mode of argumentation of those engaged in the debate. In terms of
production, Gallhofer et al.s (2001) analysis focuses on the other texts on which both
submissions draw in constructing their arguments i.e. the intertextuality of
the submissions. It is both interesting and important to note the intertextual aspects of
the submission letters; in particular, that we are informed that the IODs submission
emphasises practical experience (for example, by attaching to their submission a
Securities Commission letter detailing past abuses) and the NZBR draw on mainstream
finance research which they commissioned, is both informative and illuminating.
However, this aspect of text production is inferred entirely from the text itself, and
therefore, tells us little of the opinions, beliefs and understandings of the individuals
involved in the production process, and only a limited amount about the
social-historical conditions of production. Furthermore, Gallhofer et al. (2001, p. 139)
note that the NZBR submission constitutes a more powerful discourse and that the

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IODs submission was weak in terms of its position in the hegemonic struggle. In other
words, while Gallhofer et al. (2001) do not explicitly speculate on the consequences of
the submissions, there is an implicit assumption that the NZBR submission would be
more effective, even though no formal analysis of the reception of the letters of
submission were undertaken.
In terms of the social-historical aspects of production, there are a range of issues
that seem pertinent to the analysis which are not considered due to the limited focus on
aspects of intertextuality; for example, whether the two organisations are characterised
by definite hierarchies, whether or not membership is limited, what their status is in
relation to other lobby groups, what their resources are like in comparison to each other
and other lobby groups, etc. In terms of the everyday understanding of individuals
involved in the production process, again, pertinent issues are neglected due to a focus
on intertextuality for example, How do they perceive their role within the
organisation? How do they perceive the role of the organisation? What is it they hope to
achieve? As Thompson (1990) stresses, a fundamental feature of social enquiry is that
the object domain (the letters of submission) are a pre-interpreted subject domain and,
therefore, their analysis should attempt to interpret the understanding of the
individuals involved in the production process. By engaging with the actors involved
in the process of production the researcher is not simply trying to understand the
intentions of the authors/producers; as Thompson (1990, p. 138) reminds us,
intentionality should not be taken as the touchstone of interpretation. Considering
too the understanding of actors involved in production may help illuminate the rules
and assumptions implicit in the production process, including assumptions about the
audience and its needs, interests and abilities (Thompson, 1990, p. 305). Therefore, by
consulting with those involved in text production, Gallhofer et al. (2001) would have
perhaps gained insights into the assumptions held by producers regarding the
Takeovers Panel Advisory Committee, and why NZBR felt that commissioned
empirical research was so important and how commissioning decisions were made.
However, and to their credit, Gallhofer et al.s (2001) analysis is not completely
restricted to intertextual features of production. We find, tucked away as an endnote to
the paper, that the analysis of the submissions was supported by interviews of the
Chief Executive of the NZBR, the Chairman of the Security Commission and the
Executive Director of the IOD (Gallhofer et al., 2001, p. 147). But what of these
interviews? It is not clear from the body of the paper what insights these interviews
provided, or what light they shed on the analysis of discourse practice. Unfortunately
only snippets of insights are provided in a couple of endnotes. For example, we are told
that a senior director of the IOD mentioned that the IOD argued for takeovers
legislation of moral and ethical grounds (Gallhofer et al., 2001, p. 150). But on what
ethical grounds? Was the directors judgement informed by the ethical perspective of
what Gray et al. (1994) refer to as financial utilitarianism, whereby a society as a
whole benefits from individuals pursuing their own financial self interest- and if so,
what does this inform us about the hegemonic relations of production?
In another endnote, we are told that an NZBR representative believed that the work
which they commissioned was heavy duty research and that the submission of their
opponents was not based on good research or good professional analysis. This
appears to be quite a telling quote, and one wonders why these issues were not more
fully developed in the body of the paper. However, as stated, we only get a couple of

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snippets of such insights as opposed to any real attempt to develop the perspectives
and understanding of the producers of the texts. Given the criticisms outlined in the
previous section of the paper regarding Faircloughs version of CDA, at least Gallhofer
et al. (2001) make some attempt to consult with the producers of texts- which is more, it
could be noted, than could be said for Faircloughs own analysis.
Despite Gallhofer et al.s (2001) brief attempt to take on board the understanding of
the producers, this consideration is not extended to the recipients of the texts. In
another endnote, Gallhofer et al. (2001, p. 150) inform the reader that the consumption
of texts is not explicitly analysed in the case study as it is deemed to extend the
analysis beyond what is appropriate within the confines of the study.
While it could be argued that Gallhofer et al. (2001) pay insufficient attention to the
role of production and reception of the texts they analysed, it should be noted that
compared to other textually orientated approaches to the analysis of discourse in the
accounting literature, Gallhofer et al.s (2001) study is much more comprehensive, and
represents an attempt to acknowledge, and to some extent, incorporate issues of
production and reception which are severely lacking in other papers.
The following section outlines Thompsons (1990) depth-hermeneutical framework,
which he describes as the tripartite approach, illustrating how this framework can
help address the shortfalls identified above.
The tripartite approach
In order to address the implications of the theoretical considerations outlined earlier in
this paper, Thompson (1990) proposes a methodological framework for the analysis of
mass communication which he refers to as the tripartite approach[9] (see Figure 1).
The three object domains to be considered in this approach are:
1. The production and transmission or diffusion of symbolic forms.
2. The construction of the media message.
3. The reception and appropriation of media messages (Thompson, 1990, emphasis in
original).

Figure 1.
The methodological
development of the
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As Thompson (1990, p. 304) states, a comprehensive approach to the study of mass


communication requires the capacity to relate the results of these differing analyses to
one another, showing how the various aspects feed into and shed light on one another.
According to Thompson, the first stage of analysis, the production and transmission or
diffusion of symbolic forms, is most appropriately carried out by combining
social-historical analysis with an interpretation of doxa[10] (ethnographic research). In
exploring the social-historical dimension of production or diffusion, the researcher may
consider the characteristics of the institution within which the media message is
produced, the patterns of ownership and control within the institution, the relationship
between media and non-media institutions, the technologies employed in production
and the procedures carried out by individuals (such as marketing, promotion, etc.).
When discussing the social-historical dimensions of production, Thompson (1990,
1995, 2005) usefully draws on Bourdieus concept of fields of interaction. Bourdieu
uses the concept of field to highlight how actions are carried out in structured social
contexts; i.e. in pursuing aims and objectives, individuals act within sets of
circumstances which are given in advance, and which provide different individuals
with different inclinations and opportunities (Thompson, 1995, p. 12). In other words,
individuals are differently positioned within fields according to the quantities of
resources or capital available to them (Thompson, 1990, p. 282). With reference to the
capital available to individuals, (Thompson, 1990, p. 282) notes:
These schemata are not so much explicit and well-formulated precepts as implicit
unformulated guidelines. They exist in the form of practical knowledge, gradually inculcated
and continuously reproduced in the mundane activities of everyday life.

According to what Thompson (1990) describes as the hermeneutic conditions of social


enquiry, the object domain of analysis (for example, accounting texts) is also a
pre-interpreted subject domain. Given this condition, it is imperative that any analysis
of symbolic forms must consider how they are interpreted by the subjects who
comprise the subject-object domain (Thompson, 1990, p. 279). Such an approach is
referred to by Thompson (1990) as an interpretation of doxa: i.e. an interpretation of the
opinions, beliefs and understandings which are held and shared by the individuals
who comprise the social world (Thompson, 1990, p. 279). Interpretation of doxa is
essentially ethnographic in nature, and may be undertaken through interviews,
participant observation and other kinds of ethnographic research (Thompson, 1990,
p. 279).
An interpretation of doxa, with regard to production and transmission of symbolic
forms, requires an interpretive approach that seeks to elucidate the understanding of
the individuals involved in producing and transmitting media messages . . . the ways
in which they understand what they are doing, what they are producing and what they
are trying to achieve (Thompson, 1995, p. 305). Such an approach helps to illuminate
the rules and assumptions implicit in the production process, including assumptions
about the audience and its needs, interests and abilities (Thompson, 1995, p. 305). By
combining both aspects of production (the social-historical context and the
understandings of the individuals involved in the production process), the
researcher is in a stronger position to interpret how the media message is produced
as a meaningful symbolic construction (Thompson, 1995, p. 305).

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Whilst Thompson (1990, p.280) stresses that it is important for researchers to pay
attention to the production and reception of symbolic forms, he acknowledges too that
symbolic forms are also meaningful constructs which are structured in definite ways.
Accordingly, for the second object domain, internal structure of text, Thompson
(1990, p. 305) views the media message as a complex symbolic construction which
displays an articulated structure. In order to analyse the articulated structure,
Thompson (1990, p. 305) recommends formal or discursive analysis, acknowledging
that there are various ways this can be carried out, depending upon the objects and
circumstances of enquiry. Thompson (1990) alludes to several methods of enquiry that
may be applied to this domain, including: semiotic analysis; conversation analysis;
syntactic analysis; narrative structure; and argumentation analysis.
The third object domain, the reception and appropriation of media messages, is
similar to the first, in so far as both social-historical analysis and an interpretation of
doxa are undertaken. In this case, the interpretation of the doxa considers how
recipients, as opposed to producers, of symbolic forms interpret and appropriate them.
This aspect of analysis draws attention to the specific circumstances and socially
differentiated conditions within which media messages are received by particular
individuals (Thompson, 1990, p. 305). For example, analysis may consider the
contexts within which messages are received, the degree of attention accorded to their
reception, whether reception varies according to gender, class or race, etc. While
Thompson (1990, p. 313) acknowledges that there has been a significant amount of
research on the size of audiences or which consider the gratifications which they
derive from [media messages], he argues that such research gives scant attention to
the social-historical context of reception. In considering the social-historical aspects of
appropriation, Thompson (1990) draws attention to a number of criteria that may be
usefully explored by researchers. These include: the typical modes of appropriation;
the social-historical conditions of reception; the meaning of messages as interpreted by
recipients; and the discursive elaboration of messages.
The typical modes of appropriation will often be circumscribed by the technical
nature of transmission. For example, novels will most likely be read alone, whereas a
television soap opera may be watched amongst friends and family. However,
Thompson (1990, p. 315, emphasis added) warns that:
[. . .] the technical media of transmission do not determine the typical modes of appropriation,
as these modes are also dependent on the conditions, conventions and competencies which
characterize the contexts of reception and the recipients. It is only by analysing the technical
media of transmission in relation to the actual circumstances in which mass-mediated
products are received and taken-up that we can attempt to elucidate the typical modes of
appropriation of these products.

The social and historical characteristics of reception refer to the fact that reception and
appropriation are situated practices; i.e. activities which take place in particular
times and places. Analysis may consider: the spatial and temporal features of
reception (where the activity takes place and for how long); the relations of power (who
controls the media message or has the technical means of reception); the rules and
conventions which govern reception; and, the social institutions within which receptive
activity takes place. For example, the reception of a social and environmental report by
an environmental NGO is likely to differ from that of an analyst in a financial advising
firm (Deegan and Rankin, 1997). Alternatively, the reception of accounting textbooks

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on undergraduate courses is determined by an institutionalised aspect of the higher


education field: namely, the adoption system (Thompson, 2005). In this sense, the use of
a recommended accounting textbook by students will most likely depend on whether
the text has been recommended for a course by the lecturer. In other words, there are
distinct relations of power that will determine the particular accounting textbook used
by students. Furthermore, the textbook may be used by the course lecturer to structure
lectures and tutorial activity, and may therefore have direct implications for where and
how the textbook is used (Ferguson et al., in press).
The meaning of messages as interpreted by recipients may be considered an aspect
of the interpretation of doxa, and is concerned with the ways in which symbolic forms
are interpreted and understood by individuals who receive them. This aspect of
analysis will consider whether individuals accept or reject media messages, and aims
to make explicit the implicit conventions which they employ when decoding
messages. For example, financial analysts who have studied a particular industry will
typically be able to interpret quite terse company announcements in light of the
background knowledge they already posses. When linked to the social-historical
characteristics of appropriation, it is possible for the researcher to establish whether
understanding differs systematically in relation to, for example, class, gender, race, etc.
(Thompson, 1990).
The discursive elaboration of media messages recognises that as well as being
transmitted and received by individuals in particular settings messages are also
commonly discussed by recipients in the course of reception or subsequent to it, and
are thereby elaborated discursively and shared with a wider circle of individuals who
may or may not have experienced the process of reception (Thompson, 1990, p. 317).
In other words the appropriation of a media message may not necessarily coincide with
the initial reception of the message. This process may have implications in terms of
how individuals understand and appropriate messages.
Conclusions
This paper has argued, by referring to Gallhofer et al. (2001) as an exemplar, that the
formal analyses of textual discourse reported in the accounting literature are limited
to the extent that they only focus on the internal structure of texts. That is not to say
that such analysis is misplaced, but rather that it could be used in conjunction with
other methods of investigation which consider the everyday understanding of the
individuals involved in the production and reception of accounting texts, as well as the
social and historical conditions of the production and reception processes. As outlined,
there are several important theoretical and methodological reasons for this.
These key issues are often unacknowledged in extant studies of accounting texts;
they are usually not considered as a potential area of analysis, or as a limitation to the
studies. Even where they are mentioned, the analysis tends to ignore the issue raised.
One reason for this neglect might be a lack of awareness on behalf of the researcher. In
this respect, the current paper makes a contribution to the accounting literature by
increasing awareness of important methodological issues associated with the analysis
of accounting texts. The current paper makes a further contribution, by outlining
Thompsons (1990) tripartite framework which addresses each of the theoretical
concerns discussed in the second section of the paper.

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A more comprehensive analysis of accounting texts is not without challenges; for


example, access to organisations, the authors/producers, or stakeholders/intended
audiences of accounting texts may not always be possible. Nevertheless, this should
not prevent a consideration of the social-historical aspects of the production or the
appropriation of texts. A further limitation of the tripartite framework is that by
widening the scope of research to include individuals and social-historical context, it
would be difficult to undertake large scale studies which included numerous samples
of accounting texts (for example, Unerman, 2000)[11]. Other pragmatic issues may also
be relevant here; in addition to managing such large-scale studies, the sizeable output
may prove difficult to publish given the necessary space constraints in academic
journals. However, the output does not necessarily have to be published in a single
article; each strand of the research could be published separately with reference
made to each of the other components. Furthermore, since there is much less material
in the literature that considers the use of, or the motives for producing, accounting
texts, perhaps large-scale studies into the internal structure of texts should not be a
priority for accounting researchers.
Despite these limitations, the approach outlined in this paper has value for a number
of reasons; in particular, by increasing understanding of production and use, as well as
social historical conditions, we can develop a more comprehensive understanding of
how relations of power are manifest in accounting texts and, about how the use of
symbolic forms may be utilised to serve the interests of certain constituents to the
detriment of others. Furthermore, by illuminating relations of power this research
approach may hold emancipatory potential; for example, the interpretation of symbolic
forms using the tripartite approach may be different from the interpretations of
individuals who are already enmeshed in the processes of production or reception. This
may provide the opportunity for them to question or revise their prior understanding
. . . [and] to alter the horizons of their understandings of themselves and others
(Thompson, 1990, p. 333).
Notes
1. For example, Fairclough (2003, p. 8) differentiates between construction and construal,
arguing that though we may textually construe the social world. . . whether our
representations or construals have the affect of changing its construction depends upon
various contextual factors. In this sense, Fairclough accepts a moderate view of social
constructionism as opposed to an extreme version.
2. However, see Widdowson (2004) for an objection to the synonymous use of these two terms.
3. It is the authors view that the term fallacy of internalism may often be inappropriate, and
the less pejorative term limitation be more applicable in some circumstances. Thompsons
(1990) term will be used in this study to encompass both interpretations.
4. The Derridean counterpoint Il ny a pas de hors texte (There is nothing outside the text),
might appear to refute Thompsons statement. However, as Derrida (1988, p. 148) has
himself noted with regard to this statement: that does not mean that all referents are
suspended, denied, or enclosed in a book, as people have claimed, or have been nave enough
to believe and to have accused me of believing. But it does mean that every referent, all
reality has the structure of a differential trace, and that one cannot refer to this real except in
an interpretive experience. The latter neither yields meaning or assumes it except in a
movement of differential reading. Thats all.

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5. There are a wide range of studies in accounting which draw on particular aspects of
Thompsons framework without necessarily incorporating the framework in its entirety. For
example, Arnold (1999) and Ferguson et al. (2005) employ Thompsons concept of ideology,
whilst Harrison and McKinnon (1999) draw on his structured concept of culture.
6. Thompson (1990, p. 59) uses the term symbolic forms to refer to a broad range of actions
and utterances, images and texts, which are produced by subjects and recognised by them
and others as meaningful constructs. These may include linguistic utterances, either spoken
or inscribed, as well as visual images: hence, written accounting texts are a symbolic form.
In this respect, the definition of discourse provided in the present study, as written or spoken
text which may include web pages, visual images, etc, equates with Thompsons use of the
term symbolic form. Culture then consists of symbolic forms, actions, utterances, etc. or
in other words discourse.
7. Hallidays work is characterised by his emphasis on the relationship between the
grammatical system and the social and personal needs that language is required to serve
(Wodak, 2001, p. 8).
8. Other studies have employed the use of CDA to analyse accounting texts, although this
research tends to stand outside the literature normally classified within accounting. For
example, Livesey (2002), and Livesey and Kearins (2002) employ CDA in the analysis of
sustainability reports (Royal Dutch Shell and the Body Shop) and are published in the
communication and in the environmental literature respectively.
9. This is an extension of Thompsons (1990) depth-hermeneutics methodological framework
for the cultural analysis of symbolic forms. Whilst the depth-hermeneutics framework is
concerned with symbolic forms in general, the tripartite approach considers mass-media
forms in particular. Since the tripartite approach is derived from the depth-hermeneutics
framework, both approaches share a number of features in common (for example, both
frameworks emphasise the need to combine social-historical analysis, an interoperation of
individuals everyday understanding of the social world, and formal/discursive analysis).
The tripartite approach differs in terms of the emphasis accorded to the production and
reception of symbolic forms - due to the institutionalised break between producer and
recipient in mass communication.
10. The word doxa derives from the Greek language and refers to the opinions or beliefs an
individual may hold. Doxa is most often contrasted with episteme, which is taken to refer to
truths or genuine knowledge. Whereas episteme can only be achieved through reason, doxa
may be the result of persuasion.
11. Although they do not explicitly apply Thompsons tripartite approach (or Faircloughs
three-dimensional framework), Tregidga and Milne (2006) undertake a large-scale analysis
of the environmental/sustainability reports of one organisation over a ten year period,
drawing attention to the social-historical issues which have a bearing on their production.
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Corresponding author
John Ferguson can be contacted at: j.x.ferguson@dundee.ac.uk

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