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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Management Accounting Research, Volume 20, Issue 3, September 2009, Pages 177–192
For three decades, the use of structuration theory has made a distinctive contribution to management accounting research. A recent development of the theory by Stones [Stones, 2005. Structuration Theory. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke] advocates a move away from the relatively abstract concepts evident in the work of Giddens, towards providing more concrete constructs that give epistemological and methodological guidance to researchers in the field. In order to achieve this, he recommends deployment of the concept of position–practices, combined with use of a quadripartite model of structuration. The main purpose of this paper is to examine the potential of this development for management accounting research. We do so by setting it within our own skeletal model of the structuration process, and then using it to analyse a case study of management accounting practices in a privatised utility company. We conclude that investigation of position–practices focuses attention on the strategic conduct of agents, the importance of power in social interaction, and a plurality of structures and theories of action. But, whilst the quadripartite model highlights the phenomenology, hermeneutics and practices of agents, we note that it provides few direct insights into the processes of reproduction, learning and change in management accounting. We suggest this limitation can be overcome by using structuration theory in a flexible manner, drawing inspiration from other theoretical perspectives which ascribe central roles to path dependency, contradiction and praxis.
Since the publication of his study Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure and Contradiction in Social Analysis in 1979, the influence of Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory has “created a small but distinctive contribution to … management accounting research” (Baxter and Chua, 2003, p. 100). The theory has been used as a “sensitising device” (Macintosh and Scapens, 1990, p. 469), guiding empirical research towards the analytical separation of three dimensions of structure – signification, domination and legitimation – so as to gain deeper understanding of management accounting practices than can be provided by studies that focus either on institutional contexts or the behaviour of agents, alone. Central to the theory of structuration is the concept of “the duality of structure”, which enabled Giddens to steer a middle course between determinism and voluntarism. For him, “structure is both medium and outcome of the reproduction of practices. Structure enters simultaneously into the constitution of the agent and social practices, and “exists” in the generating moments of this constitution” (Giddens, 1979, p. 5). Consequently, socially constructed structures both enable and constrain human agency. During processes of interaction with others, agents draw upon stocks of knowledge, collectively described as the modalities of structuration (see Fig. 1). Thus, knowledge, in the form of interpretative schemes, norms and facilities, is mobilised in relation to individuals’ efforts to achieve their purpose or pursue their interests. From the perspective of agents enacting strategic conduct, the modalities appear as rules and resources. Simultaneously, the modalities represent the media by which structural components of systems of interaction are reproduced. So, from a structural perspective, they may be studied as analytical components of systems of social interaction centred upon the communication of meaning, the exercise of power and the application of normative approval or sanctions (Willmott, 1987). The earliest use of structuration theory in management accounting research invoked parallels between the conceptualisation of structures and the practical operation of accounting systems; in which the latter were interpreted as regularising organisational functioning across time and space. The accounting system was seen as a way of supplementing local meanings and norms by imposing discipline on the work of dispersed organisational participants (Roberts and Scapens, 1985). Later studies emphasised the role of agency, for example Roberts (1990) illustrated how face-to-face meetings between divisional managers in a conglomerate built a sense of local accountability quite distinct from the formal systems of divisionalised measurement and control. Structuration theory also encouraged researchers to explore how management accounting systems develop over time and why there might be resistance to change in management accounting practices (Macintosh and Scapens, 1990 and Scapens and Roberts, 1993). Significant impetus was given to the investigation of these themes with the publication of the Burns and Scapens (2000) framework, which combined structuration theory with “old” institutional economics and the work of Barley and Tolbert (1997) to provide an evolutionary perspective on the ways rules and routines structure organisational activity over time. Their framework has provided the foundations for research into change in management accounting systems, the interplay between management accountants and other agents of change, revolutionary versus evolutionary changes, relationships between different forms of trust, and the control of networks of organisations (e.g. Soin et al., 2002, Seal et al., 2004, Granlund and Modell, 2005 and Busco et al., 2006). Meanwhile, Dillard et al. (2004) proposed a more elaborate model incorporating institutional and structuration theories; and both Ahrens and Chapman (2002) and Conrad (2005) used structuration theory to examine aspects of accountability and trade-offs between legitimacy, signification and power over time. Given the contribution that structuration theory has made to management accounting research, any substantial development of the theory warrants examination. Such a development has been proposed by Stones (2005), who advocates a research strategy which moves away from the overwhelmingly abstract ontological concepts evident in the work of Giddens, towards understanding specific phenomena in a particular time and place. In order to achieve this strategy, he recommends deployment of the construct of position–practices and a quadripartite model of structuration. The main purpose of this paper is to explore the potential of Stones’ (2005) elaboration of structuration theory in management accounting research. In this quest, we are encouraged by the recent work of Jack and Kholeif (2008), which used Stones’ (2005) framework to interpret fundamental issues about the role of management accountants in an organisation during the implementation and use of an ERP system. But we extend the examination of the work of Stones (2005) by clearly setting it within the context of our own skeletal theory of the structuration process, exploring its use in the analysis of an illustrative case study, and then critically evaluating its contribution. At this stage, we should emphasise that our starting position is not necessarily one of advocacy of the work of Stones (2005). Rather, we are adopting it as a vehicle for our case study analysis, with the expectation that it will be challenged and revised as a result of the research process (Humphrey and Scapens, 1996). To achieve our purpose, the remainder of the paper is organised as follows. In Section 2, we examine the recommendations of Stones (2005) to move away from ontology-in-general towards ontology-in-situ, and describe his elaboration of meso-level analysis through the deployment of the construct of position–practices and a quadripartite model of structuration. In Section 3, we suggest how this elaboration fits into the wider context of a skeletal theory of the structuration process. In the following section, we introduce a longitudinal case study as a basis, in Section 5, for discussing the potential contribution of Stones (2005) to management accounting research, together with an examination of its limitations. We end the paper with a summary of our conclusions.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
Our research suggests that Stones (2005) has produced a useful elaboration of structuration theory through his introduction of the concept of position–practices and the quadripartite model of structuration. Position–practices focus attention on the strategic conduct of agents and the importance of power in social interaction; whilst the quadripartite model encourages researchers to focus on interactions between external and internal structures and the emerging reconciliation of these interactions through the ensuing practices of management accounting. Taken together, they also highlight a plurality of structures and theories of action, and the consequently a-centred nature of control. In our title, we refer to going “back to the future”. This not only reflects our intention to reconsider the potential of structuration theory in the light of proposals made by Stones (2005); but also derives from our unambiguous location of structuration processes in a temporal framework (Fig. 3). This acknowledges that agents live simultaneously in the past, present and future. They actively or routinely review experience of past position–practices and the repertoires of others, project hypothetical pathways forward, and reflexively review outcomes as a basis for R L&C. Each of these agents may confront a different set of external and internal structural conditions, constraints and opportunities, because they are situated in differing positions in position–practice relations. Shifting our focus of analysis from this or that agent to another agent, then to another, and so on, allows us to build a composite picture of how external structural conditions feed into the conduct of agents by means of interactions between the analytically separated components of the quadripartite model (Stones, 2005). Nevertheless, our setting of the work of Stones (2005) in the context of our own skeletal theory of the structuration process (Fig. 3) served to highlight the insufficient guidance he provides regarding why the elements of the quadripartite model interact, and result in processes of R L&C. To overcome this limitation, we drew inspiration from emerging theories in new institutional sociology, which reflect the mutually constitutive nature of structure and agency through ascribing central roles to the interaction of path dependency, contradiction and praxis in R L&C. By implication, we are suggesting that structuration theory should be used flexibly (Humphrey and Scapens, 1996). Such an approach will enable scholars to build on the work of both Giddens, 1979 and Giddens, 1984 and Stones (2005) in ways that give structuration theory new potential in management accounting research.