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Accounting, Organizations and Society 34 (2009) 141–150 www.elsevier.com/locate/aos
Management accounting as normal social science q
University of Bielefeld, Faculty for Sociology, P.O. Box 100131, 33501 Bielefeld, Germany
Abstract The publication of ‘‘Management accounting change: Approaches and perspectives” (Wickramasinghe, D., & Alawattage, C. (2007). Management accounting change: Approaches and perspectives. London, New York: Routledge) provides an occasion for considering the extent to which management accounting has become a normal social science. This review essay argues that management accounting is a social science deﬁned by a pluralism of approaches, and it identiﬁes the generalization of social perspectives on management accounting, and particularly their ability to transcend technical and economic aspects of accounting practice, as crucial components in reproducing this speciﬁc form of expertise. Contrary to Kuhnian expectations, this social science hosts a multiplicity of paradigms, and its scientists are not exclusively concerned with the subtlest and most esoteric aspects of the phenomena under study. Instead, as social scientists management accountants are generalists as much as they are specialists. Ó 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
‘‘When the individual scientist can take a paradigm for granted, he need no longer, in his major works, attempt to build his ﬁeld anew, starting from ﬁrst principles and justifying the use of each concept introduced. That can be left to the writers of textbooks. Given a textbook, however, the creative scientist can begin his research where it leaves oﬀ and thus concentrate exclusively upon the subtlest and most esoteric aspects of the natural phenomena that concern his group.” (Kuhn, 1962, pp. 19–20) Over the last four decades, a remarkable set of institutions and institutionalized events, publications and networks perpetuating the collective enterprise of social research in accounting has been
A review essay of Wickramasinghe & Alawattage (2007). Anthony Hopwood and Andrea Mennicken provided helpful comments on earlier drafts. E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
established. However, among scholars in this ﬁeld, the lack of textbooks articulating the perspective peculiar to their emerging scientiﬁc community has remained an unremedied cause of lament. Maybe scholars have privately believed that, as far as the publication of books is concerned, ‘‘the scientist who writes one is more likely to ﬁnd his professional reputation impaired than enhanced” (Kuhn, 1962, p. 20), and such attitudes may have been fortiﬁed by the economized paper production brought about by research assessment exercises. More fundamentally though, the very existence of a sustainable position from which accounting as a social science could have been articulated in textbook form may have been uncertain, and projecting such a position may have been too shaky a foundation for considering to invest in a major publishing eﬀort. The release of ‘‘Management accounting change: Approaches and perspectives” (Wickramasinghe &
0361-3682/$ - see front matter Ó 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.aos.2008.06.004
This text discusses management accounting change not merely as a historical fact. but introduces the study of change as a didactically superior point of access to management accounting knowledge and practice: ‘‘As a learning methodology. the book by Wickramasinghe and Alawattage clearly presents the most ambitious attempt to date at comprehensively delineating management accounting as a collective project in social science. 10–11)1 In fact. in maintaining its scientiﬁc integrity. Roslender. Management accounting technology cannot be altogether marginal to this project. While there have been some notable attempts at representing the state of the art within social research in accounting in edited volumes (Cooper & Hopper. Hopper. pp. 2007. 1994) and occasional book-length essays (Macintosh. If the rifts separating the diﬀerent perspectives among social researchers and practitioners in management accounting can be bracketed for the sake of mapping the territory this epistemic community has come to inhabit. From Subsequently. this books provides an opportunity to consider the extent to which management accounting has by now indeed reached a state of normal science amenable to textbook representation. and particularly by referring technical developments to ‘‘evolution in socio-economic systems” (p. and there is at present no other book negotiating between academic research and technical education as consistently as Wickramasinghe and Alawattage proceed throughout their ﬁve hundred pages constituting an accounting textbook in the full sense of the term. & Northcott. problems and theories. change can broaden our understanding of management accounting. and diﬀerent world views on the subject (rather than a single paradigmatic one) are acknowledged to compete (pp. It leads us to realize that management accounting is a social science rather than a mere set of technical tools available for practice”. While there is no ﬁrm deﬁnition of accounting to guide the reader. a project set to grow towards some state of maturity. and the present ﬁrst attempt to represent this collective enterprise authoritatively in one publication. 2002. where will the creative social scientist in management accounting be left to begin her future research ‘‘on the subtlest and most esoteric aspects” of the phenomena under study. page numbers will refer to this book unless otherwise noted. and in defending it against domination by one or the other of the more established scientiﬁc disciplines? And given some sustainable development with textbooks like the present one providing students and researchers with sets of ratiﬁed concepts. xviii). This is why the authors have made the observation of historical change the organizing principle of their text. 4–10). (Wickramasinghe & Alawattage. institutions). does this map represent an adequate knowledge base for future practitioners and researchers? What are the crucial moves in projecting and sustaining management accounting as a social science. the authors expect their historical reframing of management accounting approaches and perspectives to give ‘‘a complete pedagogical approach” (p. the institutionalization of crucial means of sustaining and reproducing this community (journals. networks. 1 . pedagogical and practical. the authors go as far as claiming to include all possible perspectives on oﬀer for investigating management accounting change from this outlook (p. 11). epistemological. Organizations and Society 34 (2009) 141–150 Alawattage.142 H. 1992). historical and technical aspects of the expert practices associated with it. Scapens. but also because it covers some distance towards projecting management accounting as a regular social science associated with a distinct set of problems and research interests shared by a collective of scholars. approaches. Given the temporal gap between the emergence of the social research community in accounting. concern with which would constitute the Kuhnian hallmark of a mature science? What would these subtle aspects be? Or would management accounting research practiced as a normal and mature social science still be fundamentally diﬀerent from the kind of cumulative knowledge production visualized by Thomas Kuhn? Historicizing management accounting The primary move of Wickramasinghe and Alawattage in bracketing the variety of activities and positions associated with practicing and investigating management accounting is to contextualize them in a broad sociohistorical narrative. encompassing academic. 1). Hopwood & Miller. Vollmer / Accounting. 2007. The structure of their narrative is constituted by contextualizing accounting technologies and perspectives. 2007) is signiﬁcant not only because it oﬀers an alternative to classic texts in instructing management accounting students. practices and investigations historically. 1990.
etc. of the normative with the economic. economic. technologies. managerial. As far as the overall approach to presenting the material is concerned. if not cooptive perspective identifying several overarching historical trends within management accounting constitu- . signposting its narrative consistently with boxes for learning objectives. but also for the ‘‘multilayered” and ‘‘multifaceted” historical conditions of more recent developments (pp. 2005. while various technical. Still. ‘‘soft”. In their portrayal of historical management accounting change. While indeed more and more social science appears to become necessary in trying to keep pace with management accounting change. and contributing to management accounting practice. such historical framing of approaches and perspectives may be considered a proven method. more narrow view need not contradict. The authors thus demonstrate the historically pervasive multiplicity of approaches for the embedding of management accounting in the ‘‘mechanistic type of organizational form” (pp. Fordist and bureaucratic regimes of production and governance. ideological or theoretical aspects reappear across the times and spaces covered.H. Associating the historical transcen- dence of management accounting and its discourses with a pluralization of approaches and perspectives is the authors’ implicit theme. Wickramasinghe and Alawattage have been careful not to overstate the diﬀerences between what might be considered a ‘‘traditional” textbook view of management accounting and the social science outlook they would like to oﬀer. cultural. 211–218). Legge. singling out certain practices and approaches as representing the traditional. technologies and perspectives performed by the authors. organizational. 46–50).). Social scientists talking about the uncertainties and ambiguities of postmodernity are placed in a common arena with practitioners and economists talking about the need to transcend the ﬁnancial towards the strategic. just as it persists under the historical conditions associated with what the authors term post-mechanistic management accounting. 373–378). familiar from management textbooks and prominent with the few among them aspiring to articulate management specializations as applications of social science (e. Vollmer / Accounting. narrower economic approaches like transaction-costs and principal-agent models still turn up comparatively late in the historical narrative (p.g. this kind of history turns out to be partial to reconstructing management accounting as a social science transcending narrower projects of providing technical ﬁxes. The latter approaches are not treated as intrinsically alien to the growth of management accounting as a social science. short summaries. but as integral to it. and without themselves being superseded or displaced. commenting on. The historization of management accounting allows Wickramasinghe and Alawattage to recount a heterogeneous cast of organizations. neither is there a categorical segregation of traditional (conventional.) and nontraditional (alternative. and it appears to frustrate making management accounting the dominion of a particular scientiﬁc discipline or school of thought. Instead. each chapter ending with a set of questions allowing to test for reproductive as well as critical reading. or about governing enterprises across spatially dispersed organizational networks. as well as their various discourses. and particularly so in contemporary post-mechanistic. post-bureaucratic conditions (pp. etc. embedded in Taylorist. researchers and practitioners within a single narrative. In this narrative. ‘‘hard”. the local towards the global. Organizations and Society 34 (2009) 141–150 143 an educational perspective. There is no identiﬁcation of the technical with the managerial. 44– 100). normative and in any case. Wickramasinghe and Alawattage demonstrate how both of these most general historical constitutions of management accounting can be embraced from economic as well as from critical or from interpretive perspectives (which is the broadest diﬀerentiation of perspectives used in the book). social. social scientists have been engaging other experts without superseding or displacing them.) approaches. the overall historical theme is to diﬀerentiate mechanistic from post-mechanistic approaches by contextualizing them historically. and it allows them to attribute distinct epistemological categories to speciﬁc historical constitutions of management accounting. This is a transcendent. critical. Social scientists have always been there alongside others in observing. 365 et seqq. this text leaves nothing to be desired. key terms. but can eﬀectively support the kind of pluralistic reprocessing of practices and approaches. pp. This kind of competitive coexistence is manifest during the mechanistic period of management accounting. social. technical.
gradually deﬁning and redeﬁning management accounting technologies. as much as it fosters a pleasantly invitational style of presenting an open ﬁeld of practices and reﬂections. feel that the claims of utilitarian approaches to deﬁning accounting technologies as instruments are worth challenging immediately. The social and the technical Readers more closely associated with one or the other approach to management accounting discussed by Wickramasinghe and Alawattage may perhaps ﬁnd their representation of approaches and perspectives as historically coexisting somewhat complacent. their eﬀort to represent the ﬁeld in textbook encourages speculation about where potential bases for integration are likely to be found. but it is regrettable that the authors have not made this bias more explicit. the textbook form of presentation may have discouraged Wickramasinghe and Alawattage from fully unpacking the broader issues associated with the 2 It should be noted that. From the present state of the art. pp. Didactically. Reproducing management accounting as social science might in some form or the other bring about integrative processes more powerful than the competition of various forms of expertise represented in this textbook. This adequately reﬂects the regional origins of that particular discourse which might now claim some license to be considered the global academic accounting discourse. Vollmer / Accounting. as broadly as the authors set up their sociohistorical narrative programmatically. crises of control repeatedly appear as causes of management accounting change (e.2 For example. Organizations and Society 34 (2009) 141–150 tions.144 H. Strategically though. of building rather than ﬁnding the positions around which social research might for some time coalesce. respective ambitions are not altogether alien to some of the competing approaches and perspective. and the attentive reader will not fail to notice which side they are on. this supports the appreciation of the intrinsic merits of approaches competing in the ﬁeld. In any case. The overall historical picture that the reader is left with by Wickramasinghe and Alawattage is one in which historical developments have opened up an epistemically generous space in which social research both of a more economic and managerial as well as of a more critical and interpretive outlook becomes associated with management accounting change without approaches and perspectives coming to substitute one another. Locating these bases does not call for a mere appreciation of the variety of current approaches and perspectives. . 282) and a trend towards post-bureaucratic organizational forms requiring ‘‘governing by relations” (pp. for example. if only in order to reﬂexively locate their own narrative sociohistorically. current approaches and perspectives might have to be evaluated more strategically as potential allies or adversaries in reconstructing the ﬁeld in one or the other way. understanding. with integration being either a process intrinsic to the growth of a science. or an explicit goal of more ambitious attempts at theory-building. Researchers with a distinctively sociological outlook may. and they demonstrate early on that costing is a social process (pp. As far as historical continuities are concerned. has to be a matter of inventive imagination rather than of identiﬁcation. On the other hand. competition of diﬀerent forms of scientiﬁc expertise in investigating. and picking alliances cannot be eﬀected without privileging some approaches and marginalizing others. the text by Wickramasinghe and Alawattage does indicate some criteria how to generate and defend positions of strength within the ﬁeld. on the one hand. it. Wickramasinghe and Alawattage seem well aware of the contestable disciplinary and epistemological issues underlying their narrative. the authors see an increasing emphasis on the choice of managerial intentions (p. 53–56). The authors use the term ‘‘calculative practice” to refer to technical aspects of management accounting throughout their text. 324–328). substantively it turns out to largely concentrate on Anglo-American business organizations. In favour of representing adequately the coexistence of diﬀerent research traditions. 344). 316–319). the degree of discretion implied in projecting management accounting as a social science to be extended in one way or another remains somewhat underarticulated in their text. one might wonder if the coherence of management accounting as a social science can ultimately be sustained on the basis of juxtaposing approaches and perspectives. Still. Even if these authors themselves do not attempt to bring such closer integration about.g. positions from which stronger claims at reconstruction could be articulated. criticizing. While staying clear of enunciating such choices. and trouble persists for research in management accounting in keeping up with the speed of changes in their areas of expertise (p.
That it becomes harder and harder to dissociate the social from the technical. 131). Jo ¨nsson. The approaches best suited for such a reconstruction may be the ones that aﬀord a rearticulation of technology as an intrinsically social phenomenon. and this is one of the more forceful messages implicit in the textbook by Wickramasinghe and Alawattage. is amply reﬂected in an academic literature which has been embracing concepts and approaches from science and technology studies (e. Both intuitions appear to inform the authors’ appraisal and criticism of the Balanced Score Card and its academic discourse (pp. 239–270). Secondly. will need to develop and cultivate (p. if not a social scientist (cf. the organizational embedding of management accounting becomes a key issue not only for accounting academics. 21–23). but also for accounting practitioners. As already mentioned. Robson. and both intuitions resonate with placing the trend towards strategy in the context of post-mechanistic accounting (pp. Thus thirdly. Briers & Chua. in reproducing the demand for these skills and improving their standing with respect to other forms of expertise (pp. On the one hand. there are those dominant contenders in reconstructing the ﬁeld of management accounting which appear set to more forcefully try to make it the dominion of one or the other social science franchise. 314).H. and practicing technologies becomes involved in sustaining and supporting. But rather than treating economic reasoning as generally intrinsic to accounting practice (as some utilitarian approaches would have it). Ahrens & Chapman. the chances for these experts to make their science. And bringing such expertise at contextualization to bear on problems of formulating. After having discussed the BSC as well as activitybased costing (pp. but also the one in which technical expertise increasingly becomes social expertise. 233–235). criticizing and recalibrating corporate strategy will in this view provide ample future opportunities for transforming it into a skill that is both marketable and to be regularly updated by social research (cf. 1992). Wickramasinghe and Alawattage place the eﬀorts of those rearticulating management accounting as a potential branch of that particular social science called economics. Among the competitors. It might also be a prime reason why management accounting appears to drift towards reconstruction as a social science. The social and the economic The merging of social and technical aspects of accounting practices correlates with extensive academic and organizational discourse about their coconstitution. 2007. As picking. and it opens up spaces for competing experts and approaches of various backgrounds. Miller & O’Leary. 1998). Somewhat ironically. they indicate that becoming involved in the formulation and implementation of corporate strategy is an increasingly critical step in gaining recognition of technical skills. as a common denominator of the ﬁrst two intuitions. and ‘‘critical” ones in particular. 288–305). 2001. models. formulas and calculative practices obligatory passage points for reconstructing the ﬁeld of management accounting do not appear to diﬀer categorically from those of more ambitious approaches at formulating and applying other variants of general social theory. The management accountant becomes a social engineer. Organizations and Society 34 (2009) 141–150 145 Firstly. implementing. the post-mechanistic conﬁguration of accounting may therefore not only be the era in which a more ‘‘social” understanding of management technologies gains recognition. implementing. 159–161). 161–163) or informing capital budgeting (pp. 190–199). the proper direction in which to elaborate management accounting as a social science appears to be resting well in investigating accounting technologies in ever broader appreciations of social contexts. this section of the book culminates in proclaiming a post-mechanistic conﬁguration of cost accounting (p. 278). the authors subsequently draw attention to the idea that historically it might just have been the other way around. 1996. Wickramasinghe and Alawattage draw a clear distinction between established accounting techniques and their economic modelling (pp. Vollmer / Accounting. 271– 278) which concludes by calling for a broader appreciation of the political character of strategy formulation (p. alongside social scientists practicing various theoretical and empirical approaches. up to the point where the two are almost indistinguishable. This allows them to specify the contribution of neo-classical economics to management accounting in providing decision-making tools (pp. if not gradually deﬁning corporate strategy. pp.g. the authors appear to suggest that the ability to translate results of academic research into applicable knowledge is a crucial asset which competing approaches. with .
they discuss both principal-agent theory and transaction-cost economics in a general chapter on ‘‘neo-classical theories of management accounting change”. Vollmer / Accounting. be it in terms of competition. argument. history turns out to be kind to approaches that contextualize accounting more broadly in organizational and social environments. 1999. 2000). the last three decades have seen increasing contact between economics and sociology. while neo-classical economics ends up being somewhat academically sterile. & Friedman. 3 does not cherish. it is surely interesting that the more persistent attempts in investigating calculative practices and the role of numbers in economic life have taken place in the context of attempts to sociologically reconstruct the working of economics as a science (e. If sociologists for the time being continue to lag behind in engaging accounting issues. The authors illustrate this with respect to how degrees of environmental uncertainty have been found to correlate with the formalization of management accounting systems (p. in providing both descriptions of accounting systems and practical guidance to managing them (pp. etc. that right now some more sustained interest in accounting gradually appears to emerge from such contacts. 2003). Quite aptly then. does this not create the risk that the emerging social science of management accounting may in the end become much like economics – if economic modelling was not more persistently challenged? This is a risk other social sciences like sociology have been confronted with for some time.g. somewhat marginal. 1990). context. 18–19) to oﬀering alternative. accounting scholars may have something . appreciation or rejection.146 H. Principal-agent and transaction-cost approaches might have helped to make economic reasoning more sensitive to empirical problems. 1994). pp. MacKenzie & Millo. If neo-classical economics makes its substantial contributions to management accounting as a social science by taking on the pretenses of a general social theory. Hirsch. controlled adoption of speciﬁc elements of neo-classical economics (Coleman. this part of the book on ‘‘rational perspectives on management accounting change” does not conclude with a celebration of neo-classicism. overall more uncertain and insecure conditions might then be considered to be subject to the extent of its permeability to considering realities less clean than formal modelling would have them. 1990. but instead culminates in an appraisal of contingency-theoretical research. and it might implicitly attribute a willingness to coexist to neo-classical scholarship that in fact it Cf. or at least a master-metaphor of economics (p. 391–392). In such a perspective.3 On the other hand. cooperation. economics has undoubtedly had some success in establishing its models and methods as points of reference for designing and marketing accounting technologies. Michaels. The future standing of economic rationality under post-mechanistic. 406). The reason for giving contingency theory such a high proﬁle is the recognition of its dual role in serving both academic and managerial interests. Chiapello (2007) for a recent elaboration of this general idea with respect to Marxist economics. social economics (Lebaron. The reactions have ranged from wholesale enthusiastic promotion (Becker. 2003). post-bureaucratic. 1976). If one reaction of sociology to the challenge of economics is understanding economics as a social phenomenon. this part of the book is not titled ‘‘economic” but ‘‘rational perspectives”. The possibilities of and limits to generalizing neo-classical economics towards a general social theory have been little discussed (Zaﬁrovski. One may thus ask if social scientists would in the long term not need to more proactively defend the pluralistic articulation of diﬀerent research paradigms against attempts at remapping the territory of management accounting in terms of one or the other set of models. practices. but they also allow it to make a greater share of social reality subject to economic modelling. there have also been high hopes for reciprocal enrichments (Smelser & Swedberg. economic approaches would increasingly be successful only to the extent that economics becomes more like other social sciences in appreciating embeddedness. Breslau. 203). Callon. perhaps surprisingly. Organizations and Society 34 (2009) 141–150 accounting providing a meta-theory. In very general terms. While Wickramasinghe and Alawattage are not concerned with the merits of what has been called positive accounting theory (which is not even mentioned in the book). and while diﬀerences of disciplinary cultures across sociology and economics have been emphasized (e. Still. while the outright rejection of economic reasoning has remained. And perhaps it is after all not surprising. 2003.g. And again. That this slight impertinence with regards to neoclassical scholarship remains tacit in the text again manifests the overall tolerant appreciation of coexisting approaches characteristic for the authors’ narrative.
while political. Organizations and Society 34 (2009) 141–150 147 to oﬀer as much as something to gain: some skill at reconstructing economics. theories. Hoskin.to macro-analyses. for example. The treatment of Foucauldian research as a welcome extension of political economy passes over the historical disaﬀection of these strands of accounting scholarship (cf. Latour. originally had a strong tendency to deny being altogether interested in knowledge as belief. particularly for those accounting scholars defending their aﬃnities to sociological inquiry. If in management accounting practice and research. 1988. ideological or other ‘‘social aspects” end up being add-ons. investigations and results against economic reconstruction as much as they have in the past set them apart successfully from the technical-utilitarian articulation of accounting issues. Neimark. Work in the actor-network-theory tradition. its concepts. 1994. Vollmer / Accounting. is it too much to ask from management accounting as a social science? Wickramasinghe and Alawattage give clear indication it is not. 475–476) and explore possibilities of moving management accounting research towards adopting more general sociological approaches. 1990). practices to structures. the social and the economic intermingle as much as the social and the technical. . 218–228). and this pluralistic . placed by the authors in the ‘‘interpretive” current of social research. Brown. for example in combining Foucauldian and Habermasian perspectives (p. Investigating the social and political implications of economic activities does remain an important project. They do not stop at traditional concepts of political economy. But unlike the social understanding of accounting technology. meaning or interpretation (cf. But notions like ‘‘labor process” and ‘‘mode of production” do not by themselves make an issue of how economic phenomena are socially constituted. technologies to discourses. for example that political economy might itself be treated as a set of interpretive microstructures (cf. While taking on this task may today be asking too much from a management accounting textbook arguing from a position of established wisdom. The latter will need to defend their approaches. This calls for projecting positions from which the social can be generalized as transcending technical and economic. addressing them directly in this ‘‘ﬁnal phase of this text. models and practices sociologically. which could be your starting point for going beyond this book and researching the changing world of management accounting” (p. time for the authors to discharge their students. Generalizing the social To some extent. and back again? The conclusion of this textbook narrative therefore reiterates that the most fundamental issue in reproducing management accounting as a social science is establishing and maintaining multiple positions from which the full range of social phenomena associated with accounting practices can be reconstructed. Yet the authors do mention microsociological criticisms of macrostructural approaches (pp. concepts. Some of the authors’ preceding choices in categorizing sociological approaches as falling into either ‘‘interpretive” or ‘‘critical political economy” are contestable. it will become increasingly important to demonstrate the social within the economic. 1978). ﬁnally. Why consider setting up such odd couples if not in order to establish more general theoretical positions which would allow researchers to move from micro. from political to interpretive practices. 500). cultural and institutional aspects of accounting practice. Also. the order of presentation from interpretive to political economy approaches somewhat obstructs the possibility that interpretive could supplement and possible extend ‘‘critical” approaches. pp. it is time to move from instruction to practice.”. but conclude their text with a chapter that urges the reader to move ‘‘beyond political economy of management accounting change”. which continues to be interesting to explore for students and scholars alike. . the social reconstruction of accounting economics has yet to become a pervasive current in academic discourse. but in the face of economistic challenges the very substance of these activities may need to be more thoroughly addressed as socially constituted. After 14 chapters the titles of which almost invariably direct the reader ‘‘towards.H. as the sociology of technology has yet to be accompanied by an equally robust sociology of economics. institutions to participants. 442). this challenge to social inquiry might be reﬂected in the authors’ prominent placement of political economy – perhaps the historically most prominent research tradition aiming to provide an alternative sociological form of economic analysis – as a general approach for investigating management accounting change. and sometimes using these concepts might even tempt to take an economic character of social phenomena for granted.
a multitude of such positions is desirable. rather than being associated with a ‘‘process of normalization” which Thomas Kuhn saw as deﬁning the route to normal science (Kuhn. methods and applications accordingly. pp. It calls for inventing and sustaining a multiplicity of general theories able to articulate the social in transcending diverse technologies. perhaps paradoxically. if of Marxist. One might then be tempted to draw a distinction between normal social science and normal normal science. practices. deﬁned by a quest for better theories allowing for an increasingly broad and permissive understanding of social reality rather than by a quest for better data on ever more speciﬁed and categorized phenomena. as much as with the inextricable involvement of economic reasoning. p. This social science. perhaps more obtrusively than most others.148 H. the hallmark of contemporary social science might just be its ability to pluralistically switch between positions of potential universality. generalizing the social. 1962. its models and practices in the constitution of contemporary social life. cultures and institutions. This social science has. After all. struggles with competing eﬀorts at deﬁning positions from which to investigate the constitution of social phenomena and reconstruct theories. In both respects. As much as management accountants as social scientists will be generalists and specialists simultaneously. 20) might remain the most general ones. 17). Serious doubts about taking the progress of natural science as a blueprint have always been common among social scientists. The pluralistic perspective oﬀered by Wickramasinghe and Alawattage therefore is not at all based on complacency.g. Nevertheless. 4 . 1998. Which is another way of saying that management accountants should as social scientists ultimately aspire to be generalists at least as much as they claim to be specialists. This characteristic might not sit well with imagining a state of normal social science conforming to Kuhnian standards of mature sciences uniﬁed by single paradigms. the most ‘‘subtlest and most esoteric aspects of the natural phenomena” (Kuhn. In this sense. reproducing and defending management accounting as a social science. Normal social science is likely to remain a battleground contested by multiple approaches and perspectives trying win ground upon each other’s territories. With respect to the normal character of this social science. Fuller (1999) for a brief illustration of the associated disputes in the context of the so-called ‘‘science wars”. like all the others. which. economies. And one cannot help to hope that the present as well as subsequent textbooks premised on maintaining this momentum will successfully encourage their readers to move ‘‘beyond”. The multi-paradigm character of present-day social science is reﬂected in the authors’ projection of management accounting change as opening up a space for a variety of divergent approaches. most eﬀectively illustrates just how much of a normal social science management accounting has become. 31–36). While Wickramasinghe and Alawattage locate such positions ‘‘beyond” established wisdom. Defending this normality against one or the other pretender claiming to reconstruct the social in the image of a particular theory or model of reality does not merely call for analytical criticism. been confronted with the social character of technological changes. management accounting stands out from other social sciences rather than being a marginal contender among other kinds of social expertise. p. Beyond textbook performances The book by Wickramasinghe and Alawattage thus in many respects impressively demonstrates the extent to which management accounting already has become a normal social science. partic- ularly those claimed to be based on its very own kind of expertise. their ‘‘subtlest and most esoteric” concerns will also be their most general and mundane. the pluralism of approaches and perspectives deﬁnes a state of the art which for social sciences has empirically become normal and which most of its researchers will actually ﬁnd worth preserving. in one very crucial respect management accounting has by then already been proven to be up to the level of contemporary social science. Alexander & Colomy.4 and knowledge cumulation in the social sciences often appears to follow a rather diﬀerent pattern than the one envisaged by Kuhn (e. Vollmer / Accounting. For the social scientist. Foucauldian. but rests on an appropriate under- Cf. identifying it in its multiple facets where it has not been identiﬁed before might deﬁne the intrinsic momentum of establishing and extending. constructivist or Habermasian provenance. Organizations and Society 34 (2009) 141–150 narrative suggests that rather than one. Wickramasinghe and Allawatage have been extraordinarily careful in packaging the least normal version compatible with a textbook presentation. 1962.
Clean models vs. J. Mass. 1987). Alexander. Organizations and Society 34 (2009) 141–150 149 standing of what it means to practice social science in the 21st century. 32.g. Storey. The role of actor-networks and boundary objects in management accounting change: A ﬁeld study of an implementation of activity-based costing. R. Storey. G. Kuhn. 101. & Colomy. & Miller. Hopper. 151–236). The social organization of the economy (pp. Authorizing science studies: Or. D. 18. MacKenzie. & Chapman. (1990). Harlow: Financial Times. Chiapello. Miller. & Hopper.. American Journal of Sociology. Tradition and competition: Preface to a postpositivist approach to knowledge cumulation. (1988). London: Belknap. Constructing a market. 181–195). From the perspective of perpetuating management accounting as a normal social science. left to their own devices. (2003). (1998). 109. highlighting further the epistemological and practical beneﬁts of a broad and transcendent understanding of accounting technologies. Zukin. The pasteurization of France (pp. Quattrone. performing theory: The historical sociology of a ﬁnancial derivatives exchange. Hoskin. 5. Becker. & O’Leary. Relate management accounting research to ¨ managerial work!. Bureaucracy as praxis: Toward a political phenomenology of formal organizations. Hopper. why we have never had paradigms.. H. In M. 411–434. 365–382.. W. 32. Briers. Management accounting as practice. N. In some parts of the book. Critical accounts. (1962). In J. dirty hands. Jonsson. Critical Perspectives on Accounting. Accounting. Foundations of social theory. D. Why economics is diﬀerent from sociology. Administrative Science Quarterly. (2003). Irreductions. C. American Anthropologist. R. S. DiMaggio (Eds. As things stand. (2002)..). Future social science textbooks on accounting may possible explore these cracks more extensively than Wickramasinghe and Alawattage. S. P. Malden. calculative practices and discourses. Chicago. exploit. Oxford: Blackwell. 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But identifying the limits beyond which pluralism becomes too permissive in inviting and appreciating the presence of its enemies might be as hard in social science as it is in political life. The structure of scientiﬁc revolutions. Organizations and Society. Chicago. Poststructuralist positions. statistics. (1994). T. Accounting Organizations and Society. Pierre Bourdieu: Economic models against economism. Cambridge. (1976). New York: Routledge. (2001). 26. F. Cambridge.). C. Lebaron. London: Harvard University Press. (1978). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. T. Issues in management accounting (3rd revised edition). Critical Perspectives on Accounting. K.). Accounting. 263–296. would not settle anywhere short of enforcing their general understanding of social reality as a standard of wisdom. P. 32.). B. J. imagine them to include chapters on gaming. Brown. Oxford: Blackwell. Theory and Society.. (2007). & Willmott.). and models in the works of Irving Fisher and Wesley Mitchell. 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Hirsch.. or will dissect the particular textual methods used by the authors in convincing their readers about the beneﬁts of practicing management accounting as social science (cf.. London. Mass. (Eds. D. Power (Ed. Neofunctionalism and after (pp. T. 57–85. B. K. Scapens. & Northcott.. Macintosh. the pluralism of multiple paradigms could have been argued more aggressively. Accounting and science: Natural inquiry and commercial reason (pp. replenish and reopen the cracks within social life and across its academic and everyday discourses. Maybe future researchers will look back at early attempts to represent the social science of management accounting in textbooks with a gaze as critical as researchers of this generation have brought it to bear on traditional accounting handbooks (e. (1996). T. F. S. Michaels. London: University of Chicago Press. Human resource management: Rhetorics and realities (Anniversary ed. (1987). DiMaggio. Actor-network theory: The market test. C. (2007). 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