پتانسیل اخلاقی دلایل کاربردی و فردگرایی در تحقیقات حسابداری
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|10392||2013||9 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Volume 24, Issue 1, February 2013, Pages 74–82
The dominance of positivism in accounting research is at the root of a deep malaise felt by many scholars. Although the methodological limitations of positivist research, as well as the political and cultural foundations of its hegemony, have regularly been highlighted in the literature, the merits of interdisciplinarity are still denied by the major institutions dominating the field. The present paper argues that the case in favor of academic pluralism is nonetheless worth pursuing, because not only it represents a central feature of the interdisciplinary identity, but also because it provides support to those engaged in a relentless (and sometimes successful) bid for greater openness in accounting research. The paper's main goal is to promote and further this endeavor by moving the line of argument off the beaten track of methodology and domination in order to focus on morality. The largely unexplored terrain of morality can be used as a basis for original arguments supportive of intellectual pluralism that may help to raise awareness of alternative research avenues and possibilities – though it is important not to harbor unrealistic hopes. Drawing on Charles Taylors’ view of modernity, we highlight the richer moral background from which the current stress in the discipline on individualistic values and instrumental reason took its rise. As a result, we provide the accounting mainstream with the perspective of an alternative framework for its research agenda by (re)adopting an ethic of compassion. Merchant's (2008) analysis of the marginalization of interdisciplinary research in North America will be used as a critical basis and starting-point for our argument.
I think that there is a growing sense of unease about the state and direction of accounting research. Although articulated in a variety of different ways in a number of different contexts, there nevertheless is a view that accounting research has become insufficiently innovative and increasingly detached from the practice of the craft (Hopwood, 2007, p. 1365). Unfortunately, these words remain as relevant today as when they were first uttered by Anthony Hopwood several years ago before an audience of members of the AAA (American Accounting Association). They provide an accurate depiction of the ‘sense of unease’ or malaise felt by many accounting researchers faced with the overwhelming dominance of the positivist paradigm within their discipline. Hopwood's assessment also illustrates the ‘dialogue of the deaf’ (Burke, 2005) that has continued to prevail between two opposing camps: on the one hand, the ‘members’ of ‘the Rochester school’ (Christenson, 1982) and the proponents of behavioral research entrenched in their powerful North American sanctuary, and on the other a relatively large community of researchers united by their commitment to an ideal of interdisciplinarity and demanding greater academic recognition for research that departs from the requirements of positivist ‘fundamentalism’. Judging by the quantity and quality of the contributions to this ‘dialogue’ on both sides of the divide, what has emerged is more of a monologue than a frank and open discussion between two parties keen to get along: faced with the legitimate complaints of their qualitative counterparts, advocates of positivism, blinded by dogmatic beliefs,1 often responds with indifference. In the interdisciplinary community, genuine efforts have been made for over twenty years to initiate and sustain the ‘conversation’. These efforts basically center around two main objectives. The first objective is to account for the weaknesses of the positivist framework and to offer a range of methodological and intellectual alternatives. This was for instance the purpose of a study by Williams (1989, p. 455), which clearly showed “that any plausible argument available to defend positive accounting research against the accusation that it creates a tautology requires that damage be done to the theory that informs such research”. Similarly, Neu and Simmons (1996, p. 409) argued “that the decontextualized perspective of positive accounting theory is limiting and that changing the perspective offers a more complete explanation of [managerial] behaviour”. The second objective is to highlight and analyze the mechanisms which, despite its apparent weaknesses and the legitimate criticisms that have been leveled against it, have ensured the continued dominance of positivism over the accounting discipline. This was precisely the question raised (among others) by Mouck (1992, p. 35): […] if positive researchers do not live up to their professed methodological standards, if empirical tests of positive accounting theory have generated only weak evidence for the theory, and if positive researchers do not respond to their critics, then why has the positive research movement been so influential among accounting researchers? While the answers to this question may sometimes point in several directions – such as the existence of “social conflict at the meso level of accounting research which excludes interpretive and critical studies from appearing in the mainstream journals” (Baker and Bettner, 1997, p. 293) or “the lack of adequate transformative critique which contributes to the lack of progress in the accounting research program” (Reiter and Williams, 2002, p. 575) – the majority of them points to a system of power relations that is located for the most part in the United States and that is structurally opposed to the interdisciplinary current (Reiter, 1998 and Williams et al., 2006). To summarize the issue, as argued by Williams (2003, p. 266): Elite stature in the academy is achieved only through demonstrated excellence in [positive economic science]. The social structure of the academy organized through the [American Accounting Association] secures [positive economic science] cultural preeminence. To quote a distinguished scholar, ‘That is it’ (Kinney, 2001, p. 283). In the opposite camp, a doctrine of containment has been set out by Watts and Zimmerman (1990, p. 149), around two principles of disarming simplicity but of considerable efficiency: (1) ‘the methodology criticisms have failed the market test because they have had little influence on accounting research’; (2) ‘the debating methodology is a “no win” situation because each side argues from a different paradigm with different rules and no common ground’. From this perspective, the value of a methodology is dependent on its success on the academic market, while dialogue and debate are pointless due to the incommensurability of rival paradigms (Kuhn, 1996). In other words: may the strongest win! Without really threatening the Darwinian foundations of this ideological barrier, cracks have nonetheless begun to appear in recent years.2 It is important in this respect to give due recognition to various ‘underground’ developments within the field, which have sometimes resulted in surprising (and highly positive) consequences – such as the inclusion of interdisciplinary researchers on the panel of professors invited to Lake Tahoe every year to supervise events bringing together the ‘best’ graduates from American doctoral programs, or the unprecedented inclusion of papers founded exclusively on qualitative methodologies in a special issue of a particular journal in auditing research (Gendron and Power, 2011). Unfortunately, these ‘good surprises’ still remain exceptional, and the grim truth is that despite the considerable energy deployed by its supporters and promoters, very little progress has been made with regard to intellectual pluralism in accounting ‘science’. Given this pretty dark picture, it might seem pointless to want to add to a one-way conversation that seems both extremely difficult to hold,3 and which has already largely documented the methodological limitations of positive accounting research and the mechanisms of its domination. But despite appearances to the contrary, we believe that the effort is still worth making, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it can potentially serve as an important ‘identity compass’ for scholars within the interdisciplinary field, by demonstrating that academic pluralism is not a rearguard battle but represents a highly topical issue. Secondly, it provides further support to those who, within the American fortress, have been working quietly (and in some cases successfully) to build bridges between the two communities. Finally (and this will be the central argument of this paper), a case for interdisciplinarity can be made based on arguments that have never been used in this particular context and which can make a useful contribution to the debate. In particular, this essay will seek to shift the focus from methodology and domination to morality – a field that remains largely unexplored. The point is to make a case for intellectual pluralism based on new arguments that are potentially capable of raising awareness of alternative research avenues or possibilities within the two communities, while taking care not to harbor unrealistic hopes of a major rapprochement. The work of the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, whose defense of pluralism is based precisely on moral grounds, will be used as the theoretical basis of our argument. In his book The Ethics of Authenticity, Taylor (1992) examined what he saw as the three great malaises of modernity: individualism, domination of instrumental reason, and loss of political freedom. We show that Taylor's analysis provides in many ways an accurate description of the debates that polarized and divided the accounting community. Yet our purpose is not merely to underline the symptoms of a community threatened by individualistic and instrumental research. The great strength of Taylor's argument is also that it (re)emphasizes the richer moral background from which the modern stress on individualistic values and instrumental reason took its rise. According to Taylor, the moral ideal behind individualism is that of being true to oneself – what Taylor calls the ‘Ethics of Authenticity’. As to the reign of instrumental reason and positivism, it is not merely powered by an overdeveloped ‘libido dominandi’ (Taylor, 1992, p. 105), but it was also initially based on a moral ideal of freedom and universal compassion. This essay ultimately has three key distinguishing features. Firstly, it suggests that the moral authenticity of a research agenda depends on its embeddedness in a horizon of meaning that is external to the ‘self’ of the researcher, i.e. not dependent on the individual interests of this person. Secondly, it provides the accounting mainstream with the perspective of an alternative framework for its research agenda by (re)adopting an ethic of compassion. Thirdly, it is designed as a response to the analysis of the marginalization of interdisciplinary research in North America carried out by Merchant (2008).
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
At the beginning of his famous essay on the relations between morality and economics, Sen (1987, p. 6) expressed significant concern over the following issue: It is hard to believe that real people could be completely unaffected by the reach of the [moral] self-examination induced by the Socratic question ‘how should one live?’ […] Can people […] truly remain unmoved by this penetrating question and exclusively follow the rudimentary line of positivist reasoning that the modern economy [and by extension mainstream accounting research] attributes to them? The Nobel prize-winning economist expressed further surprise by reminding us that modern economics is essentially derived from morality: Not only was the so-called ‘father of modern economics’, Adam Smith, a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow, but the subject of ‘economics’ was for a long time seen as a branch of ethics (Sen, 1987, p. 6). Following the development of the opposition to ethics and to any consideration of feelings such as benevolence or moral sense in the study of economic behaviors, Sen (1987) notes that the only criterion that has survived this process is the criterion of utility (in the neoclassical sense of the term), which involves judging social or political success based on the total amount of utility created. This criterion has taken on a considerable importance in economics as a result of the generalized adoption of the concept of Pareto efficiency (or Pareto optimality), which posits that a social state is optimal if and only if it is impossible to increase the utility of a person without thereby reducing the utility of another person. ‘A state can therefore be Pareto optimal with some people in extreme misery and others rolling in luxury, so long as the miserable cannot be made better without cutting into the luxury of the rich’ (Sen, 1987, p. 32). In other words, for many economists, any form of research that does not result in an improvement of the lot of the miserable ‘without cutting into the luxury of the rich’ is perfectly useless. This digression on economics may seem irrelevant for the purposes of concluding a paper on the state of accounting research. However, nothing could be further from the truth. It is not merely that Sen's analysis of the increasingly distant relationship between economics and morality tallies with Taylor's philosophical analysis based on the moral sources of utilitarianism, but also that the accounting discipline has become in many respects a sub-discipline of finance and economics (Whitley, 1986). In this sense, Sen's critique of utilitarian fundamentalism largely applies to the specific context of the accounting discipline. Structured around two key points, it suggests first of all that the value of a piece of research cannot be assessed solely on the basis of its economic utility. Individuals or communities may place a high value on the defense of certain causes or events without basing the importance given to such causes or events on an improvement of their economic lot. A piece of research may thus be of great value in the eyes of some despite the fact that it is of no use whatsoever from a strictly economic point of view. Secondly, it might be objected that the best way to see the common good and personal well-being is from a utility perspective rather than any other perspective: To judge the well-being of a person [or community] exclusively in the metric of happiness or desire-fulfillment has some obvious limitations. These limitations are particularly damaging in the context of interpersonal comparisons of well-being, since the extent of happiness reflects what one can expect and how the social ‘deal’ seems in comparison with that. A person who has had a life of misfortune, with very little opportunities, and rather little hope, may be more easily reconciled to deprivations than others reared in more fortunate and affluent circumstances. The metric of happiness may, therefore, distort the extent of deprivation, in a specific and biased way. […] The same problem arises with the other interpretation of utility, namely, desire-fulfilment, since the hopelessly deprived lack the courage to desire much, and their deprivations are muted and deadened in the scale of desire-fulfilment. (Sen, 1987, p. 44) In this sense, defining the value of a piece of research simply on the basis of a principle of utility, as illustrated by Merchant (2008), has profound and significant political implications, since the perception of what is ‘useful’ is largely governed by the structure of power relations in society. The more a given individual or group is in a position of domination, the better able they will be to make their desires heard and to legitimize the utility of satisfying them as a matter of priority. The various appeals made by the actors of the international financial system to examine and improve the functioning of financial markets are thus more likely to be heard than the desire of a rural community in the Andes to improve their collective farming system. Therefore, unless we oppose any form of challenge to the established order, and unless we agree to make research the servile tool of the powers that be, we need to recognize that it is not the principle of utility that must be used to evaluate the ethical and political sphere but that it is the study of ethics and politics that must serve as the basis for defining what is useful for the common good. It is important to admit, however, that this recognition is far from self-evident since the pursuit of the common good implies (at the very least) that researchers feel in some sense connected to the lot of their fellow citizens and anxious to form a community of interests and projects with them. However, the marginalization of interpretive and critical research – characterized in part by a disposition to feel solidarity with all, and in particular with those who ‘lack the courage to desire much’ (to quote Amartya Sen) – suggests that the accounting discipline has not escaped the process of political fragmentation described by Taylor. Utilitarianism and individualism are therefore not simply active principles of the positivist methodology but also dwell in (and are embodied by) those who practice it. Any change within the discipline (however slight) is thus inconceivable without a major shift in attitudes. Such change requires a radical transformation of doctoral programs in accounting, which will need to be restructured based on the Aristotelian principle that since accounting determines what we must and must not do, the end (i.e. the purpose) of the science of accounting must also include or incorporate the purposes of other sciences in such a way as to ensure that the end or ultimate purpose of research is the good of mankind. In other words, the point is to resituate research and training programs in accounting within a social and political perspective. This expansion of the field of accounting inevitably requires ending the isolation in which accounting positivism has been confined through ignorance. It is important to note in this respect that the practical application of the principle of interdisciplinarity is not in any way a utopian ideal and has already begun to emerge in some American universities. For example, at Cornell, graduate study is organized using a field structure. Fields are composed of faculty members from a number of departments who come together around a shared intellectual interest, and may draw from different campuses or colleges. Graduate students are admitted to fields of study. Within each field, they select major and minor subjects, which are research interests or concentrations. Fields span departments and even disciplines. It is possible for a student in the field of economics to include faculty on her or his special committee from industrial labor and economics, civil and environmental engineering, and sociology along with the more traditional economics and management.4 Taylor concludes The Ethics of Authenticity by noting: ‘As Pascal said about human beings, modernity is characterized by grandeur as well as by misère’ (Taylor, 121, p. 191). Taylor's concluding remark reminds us that our modern era is threatened both by the very best and by the very worst, and that we cannot think of one without thinking of the other. In this paper, we have tried to show that the accounting discipline was no exception in the modern era. Notwithstanding their statistical or oratorical precautions, researchers cannot live outside the world they produce. The activity of research serves rather as a resonance chamber of contemporary issues. However, far from being indicative of intellectual decline, the prevalence of individualistic behaviors and an instrumental frame of mind in accounting research is indicative of a significant moral potential. The actualization of this potential necessitates the promotion of intellectual pluralism and the rediscovery of instrumental reason ‘in the moral frame of the ethic of compassion’. Yet such compassion needs in turn to be placed within the framework of a proper understanding of human agency, and ‘not in relation to the disembodied ghost of disengaged reasons, inhabiting an objectified machine’ (Taylor, 1992, p. 106). By rediscovering its own moral sense, positivist research is therefore liable to partake in the fight against political fragmentation. However, Taylor also observes that ‘people's lack of identification with their political community is also fed by the experience of political powerlessness’ (Taylor, 1992, p. 118). The potential of accounting and its use as a technology of power have been largely demonstrated in the literature (Miller and Rose, 1990). Against political fragmentation, a vast and challenging research agenda for the discipline might involve seeking to turn the use of accounting away from supporting technologies of political domination in favor of supporting technologies of political empowerment. This potential agenda would represent not merely a major research contribution, but also the concrete manifestation of a highly valuable horizon of signification.