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فراز و نشیب تحقیقات حسابداری بین المللی

کد مقاله سال انتشار مقاله انگلیسی ترجمه فارسی تعداد کلمات
10364 2011 20 صفحه PDF سفارش دهید 16200 کلمه
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عنوان انگلیسی
The rise and coming fall of international accounting research
منبع

Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)

Journal : Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Volume 22, Issue 6, August 2011, Pages 608–627

کلمات کلیدی
- توسعه - گفتمان - جهانی شدن - هماهنگی - حسابداری بین المللی -
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چکیده انگلیسی

This paper examines international accounting research (IAR) as a historically constituted discursive formation and argues for the post-colonial moment as its condition of possibility. The post-colonial moment is specified as comprising three aspects: decolonization, the Cold War and the Development doctrine. The latter entailed a political program to fashion a commodity-intensive world, subtended by the economic subject. The post-colonial moment also triggers a reorganization of the social sciences into policy sciences to which IAR belongs. By examining key topics in IAR such as economic development, culture, corporate capitalism, and harmonization in the context of its conditions of production, the paper conjectures the likely end of IAR.

مقدمه انگلیسی

International accounting research (IAR) takes international accounting as its principal object for inquiry. However, almost from the start, IAR scholars have complained that the term “international accounting” has been inadequately defined. For instance, in the very first issue of The International Journal of Accounting Eric Kohler noted that the ambiguities of accounting terms are only intensified in international settings and therefore called for “developing international accounting meanings” (Kohler, 1965). Some years later, accounting scholars reviewing the “varying definitions” of the term pointed out that in its most frequent uses, international accounting referred on the one hand to “…an universal system (of concepts and standards) that could be adopted by all countries…” while on the other to “…the set of all the varieties of principles, methods and standards of accounting of all countries...” (Weirich et al., 1971, p. 84, emphasis in original; see also Gernon and Wallace, 1995 and Quershi, 1979). Respectively called “world accounting” and “comparative accounting,” it is the latter sense of international accounting that has preoccupied IAR. The possibility of establishing a “world accounting” did serve as an abiding provocation for IAR, and to which it contributed at one remove. And yet, as widely acknowledged in the literature, even though world accounting was the horizon for it, the overwhelming concern of IAR has been to describe, classify, compare, and explain the varieties of accounting standards and practices in different countries ( Cooke and Wallace, 1990 and Mueller, 1970). Large accounting firms have conducted or sponsored repeated surveys of accounting practices in an ever-widening pool of countries to better grasp the varieties of accounting ( Price Waterhouse, 1973, Price Waterhouse, 1975 and Price Waterhouse, 1979). Standard textbooks on international accounting routinely contained chapters on accounting as practices in different countries or different regions of the world (see, Meek and Saudagaram, 1990, pp. 147–148; Mueller et al., 1987 and Mueller et al., 1994). As emphasized by one of its leading contributors in a review of the literature almost two decades ago, the driving purpose of IAR was to establish on a scientific footing the “set of environmental factors (which) determine national accounting and financial reporting standards” (Most, 1994a, p. 3; see also Corbin, 1981).1 Yet that founding purpose of IAR has not borne the desired fruit of “a general (or global) theory of accounting” to explain “…how and why accounting systems differ from country to country” (Wallace and Gernon, 1991, p. 253, 209). However, it is not this acknowledged inability to scientifically explain the varieties of accounting systems that now threatens to eclipse IAR. After all, research programs are not fulfilled in a day. Instead, it is the actualization of a potentiality in international accounting that heralds the coming fall of IAR by its redirection into the mainstream of accounting research. It was once widely held that the possibility of “world accounting” or “…a universal system of accounting principles adopted by all countries is rather doubtful because of the differing legal, political, and social forces among various countries” (Weirich et al., 1971, p. 82). In hindsight that assessment seems somewhat rushed. The slow but sure establishment of the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) has now made a globally harmonized field of accounting practices more likely. Many countries around the world have already or have plans to sign up for International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) or some version thereof. To spur on these efforts, the leaders of the G-20 recently called for a single set of high-quality global accounting standards. Moreover, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) among others has explicitly begun recognizing the global convergence of IFRS. Thus, what once was only a dim potentiality is now being actualized and collapsing the horizon within which IAR flourished. That at least one noted accounting scholar has already criticized what he calls the “accounting consensus” built on the idea of a “uniform high-quality set of standards for use everywhere” (Sunder, 2009, p. 101) is suggestive of the degree to which comparative accounting has been rendered obsolete. However, precisely because of its focus on comparative accounting, IAR was once thought to be a marginal current to the mainstream of accounting research (Most, 1991, p. xiii). Yet, the availability of internationally comparable financial accounting statements and capital market datasets has already begun to offer new arenas for expanding capital market-based accounting research. Folding IAR into mainstream accounting research is also made more likely because, like domestic financial accounts, IAR and international accounting have been historically justified by the purported demands of investors (Ali, 2005). IAR had staked its claims over international accounting understood as comparative accounting. The rise of world accounting has eclipsed comparative accounting, and with it, IAR. This paper seeks to historically examine IAR as a discursive formation before it is absorbed by the mainstream of accounting research. Accordingly, we read the literature to disinter the post-colonial moment in international accounting research. It is well-known that IAR took wing in the post-war years. The first World Congress of Accountants was held in 1904 and four more were conducted by 1938 with some recognition of the need to study national differences in accounting procedures and practices (Samuels and Piper, 1985, p. 60). But it was not until the mid 1950s that international accounting became a sustained issue for the profession and the academy, as noted by many a commentator and practitioner (see for example, Camfferman and Zeff, 2007, p. 23; Choi, 1981). For this reason we assign the post-colonial moment of IAR—in the sense of temporality—to the period after WWII. Yet, the notion of a moment is not entirely a temporal one and we use it acknowledging its Hegelian overtones. In that sense, “moment” refers to an essential aspect or feature of a whole (Inwood, 1992, p. 311). In this more substantive sense, the post-colonial moment refers to the massive reorientation of the global politico-economic space after WWII, which we are arguing is an essential aspect of IAR. Three dimensions of this new politico-economic space are germane to our account: first, Decolonization that reversed the condition at the end of the 19th century when almost “nine-tenth of the entire land surface of the globe was controlled by European or European-derived powers” (Young, 2003, p. 2). Second, the Cold War during which a difference in how economic affairs were organized—capitalism and communism—constituted a parody of and proxy for political conflict. Third, the Development doctrine according to which a commodity-intensive society, characterized by high levels of mass production and consumption, was identified as the desired goal of all societies. This happy end-state of Development shone as a unifying beacon for all, whether formerly colonizer or colonized, or whether communist or democratic. Sieved through both decolonization and the Cold War, Development can be thereby seen as the most visible tip of the post-colonial moment. Our discovery of the post-colonial moment as the productive space for IAR results from seeking the conditions that define its space. In this regard, two methodological caveats must be noted. First, by the term “post-colonial” we refer to the fact or phenomenon of decolonization. We thereby do not invoke postcolonial theory as a template for reading IAR. Prior research has adopted postcolonial theory as a theoretical perspective from which to examine both accounting (Graham, 2009) and international accounting (Kamla, 2007 and Manassian, 2009). In contrast, this paper brings into view the space within which the rise of IAR can be grasped. In this account, we avoid postcolonial theory for a number of reasons. First, under the weight of theoretical elaborations, the term has become unwieldy and underspecified so much so that even its adherents are obliged to distinguish between variations such as post-colonial, postcolonial, postcoloniality, and postcolonialism (Spivak, 1999 and Young, 2003). Second, postcolonial theory conventionally refers to the body of reflections from the late 1970s usually affiliated with the post-structuralist reading of Orientalism (Krishna, 2009). In this sense, since largely though not exclusively concerned to deconstruct and complicate essentialist representations of “the Other,” postcolonial theory is tangential to the aim of this paper. Third and perhaps most pertinently, the phenomenon named “post-colonial” in postcolonial theory is not confined to those parts of the world that underwent the process of decolonization through the twentieth century. Instead, it refers somewhat capaciously to the historical effects attendant to onset of colonialism, starting roughly with the expeditions of Christopher Columbus in 1492 (Krishna, 2009). Since this paper is focused on IAR, which comes into its own in the post war years we restrict ourselves to “post-colonial” understood as referring to the process of decolonization. This use is not unusual, given that one of the earliest uses of the term was by Hamza Alavi, who meant by it those societies that were once colonized and now independent (in Krishna, 2009, p. 64). The second methodological caveat to be noted is that we analyze IAR as a discourse. As such, we do not offer a literature review on this or that aspect of IAR, though we exhaustively consulted the accounting journals listed in Appendix 1. Discursive formations are controlled or policed speech acts wherein not everything that is sayable is stated (Foucault, 1972). In this sense of discourse analysis, we engage in a traversal reading of the IAR literature to uncover the limits of what can be stated within it, its “regularities in dispersion” (Foucault, 1972, p. 206–208). In trying to find the conditions that lend coherence to international accounting research as a recognizable and accepted sub-division of accounting research, our paper is thus an instance of research on IAR rather than in it. Accordingly, we are less interested in the considerable diversity and range of topics, research methods, and levels of analyses that have been mapped by numerous prior reviews of the literature (see for example, Gernon and Wallace, 1995, Meek and Saudagaram, 1990 and Samuels and Piper, 1985). Furthermore, by engaging in research on IAR rather than reviewing topics or methods in it, we restrict ourselves to reading on the “surface” (Foucault, 1972). That is, we do not presume to discover hidden motives or infer unstated assumptions by going beyond or beneath what is explicitly stated in the literature. Constrained by what is in the literature, we focus our search for the boundary conditions of IAR by ferreting out how the discourse justifies itself. From this perspective, counting items is less useful to establishing the relative importance of a topic to IAR, than a close and attentive reading of texts. For instance, just because numerous articles have been written on the difficulties of translating financial statements coded by different currencies it does not mean that currency translations serve to demarcate the field of IAR. Rather, more could be gleaned about the discursive formation of IAR by inquiring into why an article on US ‘containment policy’ penned by a political scientist and historian should appear in a leading accounting journal (Graebner, 1969). Similarly, the analyses of IAR as a discursive formation calls for tracing out the resonances of locutions such as “free world,” “world peace,” and “colonization policy” when they are written by accounting scholars or professionals who do not usually work beyond a somewhat narrowly specified jurisdiction of concerns and references. If a large portion of the literature is devoted to the effort of describing, classifying, and rank-ordering different national accounting systems, a discursive analysis will focus on the logic of the criteria used for such exercises rather than their contents. In particular, we defend later the following four topics as vectors that attract or absorb most of the research in international accounting: economic development, culture, corporate capitalism, and harmonization. It was delving into these topics in IAR that we discovered its post-colonial moment by which notions such as primitive accounting and successful financial systems become possible. If our argument is plausible that the post-colonial moment is the condition of possibility of IAR, then two main results flow from our analyses. First, we have offered a new understanding of IAR discourse by sketching its contours and space of production. So far, there has been no research on IAR that explicitly and systematically shows it as an element of the largely US led program to develop the world. Moreover, many of the features of IAR including its belated discovery of culture, its exclusive focus on corporate capitalism, and its preoccupation with comparative accounting in the horizon of an always deferred uniformity are better grasped as enabled within the space constituted by its post-colonial moment. Second, seeing IAR from the point of view of its enabling conditions leads to the conjecture that IAR, as a historically constituted discursive practice, may have come to an end. Fueled by Development, IAR began with the recognition of national differences in accounting practices even if impelled by the distant hope of effacing them. Globalization has replaced Development, just as world accounting is replacing comparative accounting. With its enabling conditions on the wane, we argue that IAR will be folded into mainstream accounting research. The rest of this paper is organized as follows. In the next section, we describe the three dimensions of what we call the post-colonial moment, focusing in particular on the Development doctrine. Inaugurated in the post-war years as a political program to create a global commodity-intensive society, we argue Development functions as the framework instantiated by all of the IAR scholarship that presupposes the possibility of describing, comparing, and rank-ordering the economic activity and accounting sophistication achieved by different countries. In Section 2 of this paper, we briefly examine the significance of the post-colonial moment for the fabrication of policy sciences such as modernization theory, development economics, and development anthropology. These policy sciences exemplify the phenomenon of knowledge as power and we expose the filiations connecting them to IAR. We show that the categorization of the world into three worlds both informed the organization of the social sciences in the US and influenced the shape of IAR. Moreover, the lines of force running from modernization theory, development economics and development anthropology into IAR helped constitute some of its form and consistency. From Section 3 through 6, we serially take up the key topics in IAR discourse. Whether it is economic development, culture, corporate capitalism, or harmonization none requires special justification since each is acknowledged in the IAR literature as important.2 In our reading, most of IAR occurs within the space delineated by these topics either singly or jointly. But we also privilege these topics in part because they reciprocally clarify the post-colonial moment. Summarily, the latter regulates the dispersion of IAR discourse along these four vectors. Economic development is a persistent focus of study in IAR grounded in the assumption that properly sophisticated accounting reports not only contributes to the economic dynamism of the First World, but can also hasten the economic development of the Third World. Conversely, reflections on the relation between stages of economic development and accounting have also suggested that the latter be calibrated by the needs of the former. As such, we argue these perceptions directly reflect the conceits of Development. In IAR, culture has become a prominent topic in recent decades. Once ignored as irrelevant and then recognized as both a potential impediment to and necessary factor in modulating development, we argue that its late entrance to accounting is partly due to the late entry of development anthropologists. Nevertheless we suggest that culture is likely to fade in importance, not least because it unsuccessfully reactivates the Orientalism that Development sought to negate or disavow. The overwhelming focus on corporate accounting in the IAR literature reconfirms the prejudice for corporate capitalism as a preferred vehicle for diffusing the logic of market-intensive relations. Lastly, the convergence towards globally harmonized accounting standards, which is to say, world accounting, is one measure of the success of the program to develop commodity-intensive societies the world over. We conclude the paper by suggesting directions for future research. In acknowledging a number of questions in our paper that call for further scrutiny, there is one issue that seems to us urgent. By anchoring IAR in the post-colonial moment, we are led to see ‘globalization’ as the successful culmination of the programmatic logic of Development. If Development aimed at converting all peoples of the world into economic subjects, then both symbolically and ideologically, it has succeeded. Inasmuch as ‘globalization’ implies the acceptance of mass production and consumption as an ideal, and of commodity-intensive society as both the norm and normative, it also entails the universalization of the economic subject. A global regime in IFRS presumes and produces the globalization of the economic subject. Accordingly, we suggest understanding the coming global convergence in IFRS as one expression or measure of the achievements of the historical task of IAR to describe, classify and explain international differences in accounting practices with a view to efface them. The post-colonial moment in IAR has passed—after all, there are no more colonies, the Cold War is over, and Globalization has washed over Development. Thus, the end of the post-colonial moment in IAR may also mark the end of IAR as a historically constituted discursive practice, and of its first steps into the mainstream of accounting research.

نتیجه گیری انگلیسی

In 1999, just before the decade bookended by Enron and Lehman Brothers, then Secretary of the US Treasury Lawrence Summers extolled the virtues of “the American financial system.” According to him, US financial markets were both innovative and dependable because of generally accepted accounting principles. GAAP ensured comparable financial statements to help investors make rational decisions, disciplined the wayward and self-interested impulses of management to report matters as it suited them, and through diligent auditors, monitored managements’ activities (quoted in Krugman, 2009). Around the same time, an accounting scholar insisted it was “meaningful to refer to accounting in developing countries as ‘primitive,’ ‘backward,’ and ‘under-developed’…” (Peasnell, 1993, p. 10). In this paper, we analyzed IAR as a discursive formation and showed that it was in the space opened up by the post-colonial moment that notions such as ‘backward accounting’ in contrast to ‘advanced financial systems’ become both possible and plausible. IAR derived its raison d’etre from “comparative accounting” and we argued for the post-colonial moment as an essential aspect of it. The post-colonial moment refers to the period after WWII characterized by both Decolonization and the Cold War, both of which effected a massive reorientation in the politico-economic shape of the world. Sieved through these twin events, the Development doctrine was extruded as a third aspect of the post-colonial moment. Development stipulates that commodity-intensive societies constitute the acme of human endeavor and desire. Moreover, Development, anchored by Underdevelopment as a naturally occurring condition, implied the possibility of socio-political engineering. Accordingly, Development prompted and fostered by the US was understood as a program to transform the lives of people all over the world. So understood, it also triggered a reorganization of the social sciences. The conceptually partitioned three worlds distinguished by the level of techno-scientific sophistication and commodity dependence informed the organization and intellectual work of economists, political scientists and anthropologists. Moreover, such reorganization also entailed the establishment of these fields of study as policy sciences, explicitly geared to Development. We showed that IAR is best understood as a policy science, infused by others such as modernization theory, development economics and development anthropology. More pertinently, we argued that IAR discourse cannot be fully understood outside of the post-colonial moment whose most visible manifestation is Development. To show the relevance and play of the post-colonial moment in IAR, we analyzed its key topics. We discussed four vectors that serve as attractors for IAR discourse: economic development, culture, corporate capitalism, and uniformity. In each case we showed how and why these were accepted as central to the discourse and defined by the logic of the post-colonial moment. Moreover, we suggested that, collectively, these topics defined the limits of the sayable in IAR as a historically constituted and variable discourse. Specifically, we pointed out that the notion accounting does and should contribute to economic growth in general, and to the development of less developed countries in particular, directly reflects the conceits of Development. The accounting academy contributed to Development by cultivating elites who would propagate the message of commodity-intensive societies through educational programs, setting up schools and institutions for the exchange of information, and textbooks for the diffusion of knowledge. Most of the classificatory exercises that have occupied much of IAR discourse either implicitly or explicitly relied on a graded continuum of levels of economic development and political regime that are consonant with modernization theory. Development economics promoted, and IAR absorbed, the notion of multiple and country specific developmental paths to modernity. The supposition that culture could be an impediment to Development was only entertained once the self-confident belief could no longer be maintained that traditions would be effectively destroyed in the transition to modernity. Accordingly, whereas ‘culture’ was ignored in IAR during its early years, it becomes a theme for scientific research during the 1980s. We argued that the notion of culture as a determinant of accounting statements is likely to be short-lived because of both the speedy transformation of many previously less-developed countries into emerging markets, and its untimely resonances with colonialist mentalities. Corporations were and continue to be the preferred vehicle by which commodity-intensive societies are established and propagated. Corporate capitalism has been the preferred vector of Development, both in the reconstruction of war-torn Europe and in the development of the Third World. Both academic and professional accounting seem wedded to the demands of corporate capital, perhaps only for the most banal of reasons: money talks. Nonetheless, the resurgence of MNCs for a variety of reasons since the late 1980s seems to herald their presence as both legitimate and indispensable to economic growth. By virtue of their jurisdictional claims, accounting professionals and much of the academy have focused on the financial reports of public corporations and the needs of investors. Despite the many struggles over forty years to create uniformity in the measurement and reporting of financial information, it now seems at hand. A global convergence to IFRS now occurs as the benchmark for future discussions and debates on the harmonization of accounting standards. As such, the horizon for IAR of uniformity as a practical norm has been reached. In this light, the historical task of “comparative accounting” once given to the accounting academy has been successfully accomplished. Our presentation of these topics can be improved and elaborated in future research. For instance, a numerical analysis could be conducted on papers in IAR seeking to describe or compare accounting systems that either explicitly or implicitly used the criterion of development and the three-world scheme. The institutionalization and professionalization of IAR through scholarly journals and research centers could be better articulated to the socialization of post-war research in the US. For instance, to what extent was institutions such as the Center for International Accounting Education & Research subsidized by state? The relative importance of the academy and the profession to the elaboration of “comparative accounting” and “world accounting” seems a promising avenue to explore in the sociology of knowledge. In that vein, it would be illuminating to identify the factors fueling the expansion into and absorption of international accounting by mainstream accounting research, including the diminishing returns to intellectual curiosity from mining domestic datasets. We noted that MNC activity was concentrated between the US, the UK, and the Netherlands during the 1960s and 1970s and suggested that as a provocation for the predominance of these countries in IAR discourse. But this suggestion of the relation between IAR and MNC activity could be better specified through more stringent statistical investigation. In a related vein, the metaphors of ‘travel’ and ‘translation’ used to propel uniformity in financial standards and practices could be examined from the perspective of actor network theory. However, there is a more urgent question that emerges from our study. We were led to the post-colonial moment in trying to understand IAR discourse. In rooting our analysis in the post-colonial moment, we were able to see the emergence of Development as a historically specific configuration and understand it to mean not much more than the spread and deepening of commodity-dependence and commodity-intensive modes of life, as announced by Truman. The fulcrum of both late colonialism and Development lies in the construction of the economic subject. Some have argued that the attempt to convert the colonial subject into an economic subject failed (Bush and Maltby, 2004). This may well be true in specific historical instances viewed within finite time scales (Birla, 2009). Yet, in the long view, Development seems to have completed what Macaulay only dreamt of. The production of Homo economicus or the grocer of Lerner's parable as the object of Development is evident in discussions of underdevelopment. But it is no less potent because it is silently assumed in references to the ‘international investor’ in developed countries of the First World. Thus, we were disabused of the naturalness of commodity-dependence and see its increasing levels worldwide as the outcome of a specific program to which IAR has contributed. IAR had the historical purpose of describing, classifying, and explaining the contextual factors determining the varieties of national accounting. That historic task of comparative accounting has been rendered moot by the emergence of world accounting. We therefore argued that the ‘global convergence of IFRS’ be seen as one measure of the success of the project to universalize the commodity-form and homo economicus. Moreover, being anchored in the post-colonial moment also leads us to see Globalization as a discursive practice completing Development. Whereas once the propagation and establishment of commodity-intensive society was a project to be accomplished, Globalization now inaugurates the technical tasks of global economic management. Paradoxically, this means that the post-colonial moment has passed, and the space opened up by it is closed. Decolonization is complete, the Cold War is over, and the world has been Developed. The policy sciences that once served Development are either defunct or marginalized because their purpose has been achieved (modernization theory) or is of minor relevance (development anthropology). For instance, development economics has been eclipsed by either neo-classical or Neo-Marxian economics. Both of the latter assume a single mode of analysis is applicable to the whole world, implying the historical distinction between the developed and the underdeveloped is no longer germane to economics. Accounting journals have been renamed to keep up with these times, as for example, from Research in Third World Accounting to Research in Accounting in Emerging Economies (Wallace, 1995). Two of the four key topics in IAR—economic development and culture—are no longer important because they are rendered irrelevant. On the other hand, the continued importance of corporate capitalism and the achievements of uniformity have left IAR and international accounting open to the attentions of mainstream of accounting research. For example, the leading edges of research in an international setting now take for granted the once hypothetical link between the international investors, capital markets and accounting reports. The absorption of IAR into the mainstream is both an opportunity and a threat to those studies on accounting in an international setting that have begun to emerge at the fringes of IAR. We are thinking of researches into ‘less developed countries’ and ‘indigenous peoples’ that have recently been recognized as new tributaries to IAR (see the summary and references in Graham, 2009 and Hopper et al., 2009). Either these studies will function as permanent minor streams to the mainstream of financial accounting research or they could indeed constitute the doorway into a radically new space of a reformulated IAR. The extent to which these streams of research will make up a new IAR discourse depends vitally on the extent to which they do not take commodity dependence as an unquestioned norm, and do not therefore partake of the detritus of the Development doctrine and its promises.

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