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Title: Accounting in the Wild : an adventure in ethnoaccountancy
Author: Leung, David
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2008
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The thesis documents an ethnography of the finance department of a commercial subsidiary company of a renowned UK scientific research organisation. The ninemonth ethnography (which covers a one-year financial reporting cycle) addresses how accountants and non-accounting managers construct their company's earnings. Addressing issues in both internal management accounting (e.g. budgeting, performance evaluation, control) and external financial accounting (i.e. bookkeeping, monthly/year end accounts, auditing) the thesis focuses on how people: classify transactions and make professional judgements; use computer software for accounting; and prepare for and facilitate the auditing process. In tackling these questions, the thesis also addresses: accountancy training; the impact of people's affiliations to the accounting profession or other professions on their accounting and on their perceptions of financial statements; and other contingent/contextual factors that influence the choice of accounting method e.g. reward structure, management authority, time pressure, institutions. The research employs an 'ethnoaccountancy' approach which blends ethnographic practice and finitist theory (as developed by Barry Barnes and David Bloor). The motivation of this approach stemmed from the paucity of ethnographic studies of financial accounting (compared to management accounting research). A further motivation relates to the apparent gap between the academic curriculum (including orthodox academic research) and the experiences of practitioners - a gap which has led to accusations that writers of textbooks have given insufficient attention to societal issues; and that orthodox accounting research is of little relevance to accounting practice and is therefore largely ignored by practitioners. As advocated by the interdisciplinary research area, social studies of finance, the thesis finds that using social studies of science as a means to understand accounting, particularly the financial reporting process, a useful one. The thesis documents numerous examples of finitism in the definition and classification of accounting terms and of related epistemological issues: e.g. 'meaning is use', interpretation. As predicted by finitism, the meanings of terms (e.g. 'materiality', 'true and fair view') are not fixed: previous terms and acts of classification (e.g. 'asset', 'expense') are revisable; and the future applications of terms and classifications are open-ended and contingent upon the local circumstances and to previous applications e.g. upon new legislation and social expectations. Consequently, no act of accounting classification is ever indefeasibly correct. The analogy with scientific culture and Kuhnian paradigms (e.g. paradigm shifts, problem-solutions, exemplars) is strong: the accounting community's institutions and authority are central to the accounting process and to the 'truth and fairness' of accounting numbers; accounting training involves extensive use of ostensive learning and learning by doing; and both accountants and non-accounting managers have goals and interests that result in 'good enough' accounting and satisficing behaviour.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available