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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Volume 20, Issue 2, March 2009, Pages 141–174
Municipal corporations exist in an institutional twilight area, being both private and public, a characteristic, which presumably would be reflected in their choice of accounting standards. The literature of accounting choice does not, however, live in a twilight area, but is fragmented into two main divisions: positive accounting theory (PAT) and institutional theory (IT); only in a very few cases do the theories meet or cross-fertilize. We use both theories in this paper and derive hypotheses from them to explain accounting choices made by municipal corporations. Through testing the hypotheses on a sample of 545 Swedish municipal corporations, we indicate the empirical relevance of both PAT and IT. We conclude by suggesting an integrative approach of PAT and IT in an eclectic alternative.
Municipalities in Sweden organize some of their operations in corporations. These municipal corporations are located in a twilight zone, being both private in one sense, acting according to the legislation of joint stock companies, and public in another sense, oriented towards fulfilling the needs of the municipal citizenry. Their twilight character is indicated in their relationship to profit. Municipal corporations are subject to business risk, which can imply profits in some years, but according to Swedish municipal legislation, they are forbidden to organize with the object of making a profit. They are thus organized according to a capitalistic principle, but are prohibited from fully using the driving force of capitalistic organizations. Municipal corporations must have separate accounting systems and must account for the management of their resources. According to the opportunities in the regulation of Swedish corporate accounting, municipal corporations can choose between two sets of standards, or a mix of them: the less detailed, more prudent, conservative standards of the Swedish Accounting Standards Board (SASB), or the standards that are harmonized with the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and thus more costly to apply, which are issued by the Swedish Financial Accounting Standards Council (SFASC). Stressing the fundamental differences between the two opposing alternatives, SASB or SFASC, we ask the question: What can explain the Swedish municipal corporations’ choices of the accounting standards of SASB or SFASC? The scientific literature contains mainly two theories that are engaged in explaining accounting choice: positive accounting theory (PAT) and institutional theory (IT). Given our aim to explain accounting choice in municipal corporations, we are confronted with the choice of PAT or IT. Which theory should we choose? According to the founding fathers of PAT, the choice is very simple: “…the only accounting theory that will provide a set of predictions that are consistent with observed phenomena is one based on self-interest” (Watts and Zimmerman, 1979:300). PAT is a theory that derives predictions about accounting choice from the wealth effects the choice has on important stakeholders (Watts and Zimmerman, 1986), thus emphasizing agency conflicts. PAT studies tend to have a nomothetic orientation, using large samples and statistical testing on data from capitalistic, preferably listed corporations (e.g., Inchausti, 1997, Meyer et al., 2000 and Bradshaw et al., 2004). PAT appears to be an appropriate theory to use in explaining municipal corporations’ accounting choices since there is probably an agency problem present. Managers of the corporation control the corporation and are engaged in municipal operations, organized according to the capitalistic principle of the joint stock company. On the other hand, politicians are involved in governing the corporation, presumably according either to their interests in re-election (Downs, 1957 and Laswad et al., 2005) or to their interpretation of their voters’ will and utility (Zimmerman, 1977). This could create conflicts of interest in which accounting choice could be a factor. PAT has not been tested, however, on governmental organizations, except by Zimmerman (1977). The other main theory, IT, is more frequently found in this empirical area (Mezias, 1990). IT explains accounting choice through organizational actors being subject to institutional pressure, be it normative, coercive, or mimetic pressure. Studies using IT tend to be ideographic in orientation, using case studies, often from governmental organizations (e.g., Carpenter and Feroz, 2001, Puxty, 1997 and Granlund and Lukka, 1998), but there are exceptions (e.g., Mezias and Scarselletta, 1994; cf. Carruthers, 1995). IT appears to be a viable theory for municipal corporations because of the presumably multiple institutional pressures that puts the corporations in an institutional twilight area. What should be the proper approach when aiming to explain the accounting choice of municipal corporations? The empirical literature on accounting choice appears to prefer theoretical purity and is fragmented into two main, separate theoretical fields. The fragmentation of the field could be explained by the efficiency of theory specialisation, the field being an ideological battleground (Tinker et al., 1982), or simply the result of the academic research field itself, for example by institutional forces (Tuttle and Dillard, 2007 and Panozzo, 1997) or the need of researchers in the field to reduce competition in the market of scientific research through market segmentation. While some call for a mix of theories (Laughlin, 1995), others implement the mix in theory and in empirical research. The impression is that the mix appears more frequently in management accounting (e.g., Modell, 2002) than in financial accounting, and more often as a means of stretching a theory, such as IT (Carpenter and Feroz, 1992 and Elbannan and McKinley, 2006). Our aim is, however, to explain the choice of an accounting standard set by municipal corporations. The rational choice would therefore be a broad explanatory design, using both PAT and IT in an attempt to explain accounting choice. The derivation and testing of hypotheses from PAT and IT simultaneously seems to be rather infrequent (Bealing, 1994). To our knowledge, only Mezias (1990) and Neu and Simmons (1996) have made distinct efforts to empirically test a combination of two or more theories when explaining accounting choice. Neu and Simmons (1996) leaned more on PAT and infused social relations and context in their explanation, while Mezias (1990) leaned more on IT and added economic factors in his explanation on financial reporting. Thus, there are still opportunities to explore what a balanced attitude towards the two dominant theories can offer. The use of the two main theories also makes it possible to adopt a more dialectic attitude towards scientific development where different theories are not separated but confront each other in the same explanatory endeavor, reconciling the main theories with at least the aim of cross-fertilization, or at best a synthesis of theories. Lukka and Mouritsen (2002) claim that heterogeneity of research in (management) accounting is the only thing that can induce change. But heterogeneity of isolated perspectives can never make productive use of the heterogeneity—thus, not inducing change. Our ambition in the theoretical dimension will therefore be to find links between IT and PAT. The municipal corporation's choice of accounting standard set will be explained through the use of IT and PAT. We will treat the theories separately and derive predictions about accounting choice from each of them. The separate derivations will indicate that to a large extent they create the same hypotheses, but use different logics in derivation, suggesting that they are complementary in nature. Then the predictions will be statistically tested on an empirical sample of Swedish municipal corporations and the accounting choices they made in the year 2001. The outcome of the empirical test will emphasize the weaknesses and strengths of the different theories, and will ultimately suggest a road towards a productive reconciliation. This integrative ambition, being based more on explanatory power than theoretical purity, will therefore make the case for an Eclectic Accounting Theory (EAT). The structure of the paper is as follows. Following this introduction, Section 2 presents the dependent factor of accounting choice; in order to understand the choice made by a corporation, the reader should be acquainted with the accounting traditions of Sweden and the opportunity set of accounting standards that are offered to the decision makers of Swedish municipal corporations (abbreviated SMCs). Section 3 provides the theory of the paper, from which the collection of hypotheses from PAT and IT are derived. Section 4 contains the method, including the operationalization of the variables, and the collection of the sample. Section 5 presents the results from the logistic regression analysis. Section 6 summarizes and draws theoretical conclusions.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
In conclusion, we propose a development towards EAT, an eclectic theory that mixes economic and institutional categories. The mix implies a lack of ontological coherence but this is not necessarily a disadvantage, for it could constitute the advantage of not restricting theoretical development to one single course. In fact, taking it to the extreme, one could claim that the ontology is created in the research action (Covaleski and Dirsmith, 1990 and Callon, 1998). The eclectic approach is not a simple solution, but as Hopwood (2002) emphasizes, there are no simple solutions. We hope that the suggested course of EAT can be a tiny morsel in the satisfaction of the infinite human hunger for understanding. After all, dialectics without the synthesizing ambition of an Aufhebung, the resolution of a dialectical contradiction (overcoming and at the same time preserving), will leave us only in the dawn of understanding, but “The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” (Hegel,  1967:13).