ارابه موسیقی ABC و نیروی عظیم منهدم کننده مدرنیته
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|64||2002||43 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Accounting, Organizations and Society, Volume 27, Issues 1–2, January–March 2002, Pages 121–163
The paper explores the rise of activity-based costing (ABC). Drawing on actor-network theory, we follow key actors, and their intermediaries, as they construct ABC through a network of human and non-human allies. Drawing on Giddens' discussion of the dynamics of modernity, we show how ABC is formed, and reformed, in processes of disembedding and reembedding, and how it becomes affiliated to ‘new wave management’. Through close attention to detail, our story evaporates simple distinctions between invention/discovery and theory/practice in the development of management accounting. We portray ABC as a socio-technical expert system that is formed mutually with the construction of the actor-networks that create it. As an expert system, ABC is both a response, and a contributor, to risks of the modern world—a bandwagon hitched to a juggernaut.
Two general questions underlie this paper. How do management accounting theories and practices come into being? What are the relationships between theory and practice in management accounting? We explore these through a specific study of an extraordinary phenomenon of modern management accounting—the rise of activity-based costing. We trace this development from US manufacturing in the early 1980s, through its first theoretical formulation and subsequent reformulations, to its dissemination in the 1990s. Our primary focus is on the construction of a new costing system—between 1984 and 1992—which became known as ABC. We link this to other theories and practices that develop around ABC—such as activity accounting, total cost accounting, activity-based budgeting, activity-based cost management, and activity-based management—as more and more people are attracted to activity-based accounting. This is the ABC bandwagon.1 The bandwagon is constructed in a world where, faced with global complexity and risk, we trust in abstract systems of knowledge. At the same time we recognize that knowledge can never be guaranteed, and thus is not ultimately trustworthy. The modern world may be likened to a runaway engine of enormous power that we try to drive but fear may rush out of control at any moment. This is the juggernaut of modernity2 (Giddens, 1990).
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
We began this paper by pointing to two underlying questions. How do management accounting theories and practices come into being? What are the relationships between theory and practice in management accounting? Our detailed study of ABC has enabled us to explore these questions in relation to one management accounting development. We have emphasized the significance of the way specific actors, intermediaries, inscriptions, events, and circumstances are entangled in the creation of particular forms of management accounting. However, a number of general issues stand out in this analysis. First, there is locus of the production of management knowledge. Here the academy had a peripheral role in guaranteeing the authenticity of new management accounting knowledge. Academics were involved in the disembedding and translation of ABC and its subsequent reembedding. The oppositional voices of some academics, drawing on a tradition of espousal of marginal economics, played a part in its transformation. However, the formal procedures of the academy, in subjecting claims to knowledge to collective scrutiny, had little salience in the spread of ABC. In particular, ABC was not authenticated through the peer refereeing processes of mainstream accounting journals until after its widespread dissemination and specific implementations. Nor were professional associations a major driving force. The establishment of the “new” accounting entailed, indeed crucially depended upon, the undermining of the “old”. The professional associations, as managers and representatives of the expertise and interests of accountants, were faced with tensions between the condemnation of established knowledge (threatening to undermine the profession) and the advocacy of new knowledge, with pledges of a more trustworthy expert system (promising a golden—“strategic”—future for accountants). Instead of the academy or profession, it was management consultancy that had a pivotal role. Consultants were there in the early days (at CAM-I) and academics (at Harvard) soon became consultants. Consultants were responsible for much of the dissemination of ABC indirectly through publications and directly through implementation projects. For the consulting firms, the portrayal of a radical break between conventional accounting and the “new” techniques, was important in selling ABC products. This gave the potential of tension between themselves and other elements of the ‘accounting establishment’. Second, there is the role of computer software in the ‘blackboxing’ of management accounting technology. The general acceptance of standard costing was facilitated by the inclusion of appropriate software modules in MRP and then MRP2 systems that provided logistical support for manufacturing. These systems embedded the ruling orthodoxy and their widespread use was cited by Kaplan as one of the reasons for the failure of companies—even those that were technologically advanced—to adopt new management accounting systems. The latest generation of logistic software, ERP (enterprise requirements planning), not only retains the facilities of previous generations, but can also incorporate ABC packages. In addition, stand-alone software, such as that marketed by ABC Technologies Inc, inserts standardized ABC into adopting companies. Again the implementation of such systems is strongly influenced by the consultancy houses that work closely with hardware and software suppliers. Third, the rise of ABC was associated with broader diagnoses of global change in production and markets, and prescriptions for management practices to be adopted in response to them. It originated in a particular view of ‘the new manufacturing environment’ in the US in the late 1970s and early 1980s—the view espoused by Harvard academics and CAM-I consultants. It also reflected a particular ‘productionist’ response to this new environment. However, the specifics of its origin were soon obscured by its extension to other countries and to other industries and public services. Thus ABC was advocated for a wide range of diverse organizations—such as financial services firms, hospitals and universities—that were experiencing quite different kinds of change. Having become an abstract system, ABC escaped the concrete time-space of its emergence, and the theorization of this, to become a global phenomenon. In this process, what had begun as a costing technique took on the trappings of a management philosophy claiming to address the key issues faced by managers of organizations universally. These features of the rise of ABC echo those identified in studies of the development of other forms of modern managerial expertise. Whereas previously the key sites for the production of knowledge may have been the university or professional association: Now, expertise is increasingly being bought and sold outside the professional arena and claims to truth are being tested in the same way as any other product—by customers in the market place (Scarbrough, 1996a, p. 5). For Scarbrough, this amounts to: an epochal shift in the societal appropriation of knowledge …[and] a seismic shift in knowledge production towards distributed social networks and market mechanisms (1996b, pp. 218, 233). These shifts have a number of consequences for the nature of management knowledge. The managerial philosophies and technologies of the 1980s and 1990s have been identified as ‘fashions’ promoted by ‘management-knowledge entrepreneurs’ (Abrahamson, 1996). In this fashion perspective, normative expectations that management techniques will be rational are accompanied by expectations that they will also progress over time. This progress is triggered and shaped by historically unique conjunctures of forces internal and external to the market for management knowledge. Thus knowledge entrepreneurs ‘continuously redefine both their and fashion-followers’ beliefs about which management techniques are at the forefront of rational management progress’ (Abrahamson & Fairchild, 1999, p. 710). This produces ‘waves’ of new fashions that succeed each other over time, and are thus understood as fads.46 There are, however, some important problems with the fashion metaphor. To begin with, management-knowledge entrepreneurs specifically claim that their wares are not fashion products. Instead they are marketed as ‘fundamental in their application and timeless in their scope’ (Scarbrough & Swan, 1999, p. 10) and operate over almost limitless spaces being implemented in a wide range of dissimilar organizations (Strang & Meyer, 1994). This time-space mobility is facilitated by the mixture of ambiguity and simplicity that characterizes much modern management knowledge,47 and which accelerates its spread, creating a ‘bandwagon effect’ (Clark & Salaman, 1996). This ambiguous simplicity points to a deeper problem with the fashion perspective which pertains to its underlying ‘innovation diffusion’ model: First, it tends to treat the development of new ideas as an episode that is somehow discrete from their implementation. Second, it treats users as rather passive recipients of ideas invented elsewhere (Scarbrough & Swan, 1999, p. 10). Suppliers of new ideas—bundling them as products—may select different combinations of attributes in order to differentiate their products in the market place for management knowledge (Bjørnenak & Olson, 1999). Then, there may be ‘technological gatekeepers’—specialists working within organizations—who mediate the process of transfer, standing between suppliers and end-users, through the ways they ‘learn about new developments in their field and translate this knowledge into firm specific solutions’ (Swan, 1996, p. 124). Further, actual implementations reconfigure the ideas and techniques in the usage. Thus, instead of treating management knowledge as a defined set of ideas and techniques that are diffused across time and space: it is more useful to see technologies as multi-faceted bundles of knowledge that are socially constructed and changed, or configured, in various ways by organizations facing unique problems with unique organisational and social contexts (Swan, 1996, p. 127). Various moves in the embedding of new management knowledge in specific localities alter the nature of that knowledge; and hence a model of translation, rather than diffusion, is appropriate. This model highlights: the importance of social networks in spreading new ideas; such networks being seen as more than channels of distribution, but as operating in an active way to shape ambiguous programmatic ideas into knowledge commodities and politically-charged discourses (Scarbrough & Swan, 1999, p. 12). Counteracting the tendencies of differentiation and change, the commodification of ideas as artefacts and services may stabilize management knowledge into portable elements. This can occur when new ideas become standardized into working routines. The most prominent contemporary feature of this is a ‘blackboxing strategy’ that embeds knowledge in software packages. The political discourse shaping this is an ‘objectification strategy’ that defines management knowledge in terms of the pursuit of profit and claims its universal applicability through standardization (Scarbrough, 1996b)—albeit a standardization based on particular conceptions of the purposes and needs of management (Armstrong, 2002). Thus, if the translation model begins by destabilizing and localizing the view of management knowledge assumed in the diffusion model, it proceeds to offer a means of understanding attempts to create stability and universality. For the most part, previous studies of management knowledge have been concerned with the dissemination of ideas and spread of techniques from abstract realms to concrete localities. In this, the translation model focuses upon networks and their transformations of theories into practices. Our study of ABC complements these studies by taking as its prime focus the construction of the abstract systems themselves and their recursive relationships with concrete organizational practices. By beginning with its origins, we identified a number of emergent possibilities that became shaped into ABC. It was created against a theoretical background of a particular managerial response to perceived changes in the global economy, and from the study of accounting practices in specific manufacturing sites. The cases were subject to the highlighting of similarities and underplaying of differences, selective adoption of certain features and rejection of others, and to differing interpretations by the various authors. What emerged was a system based on activity analysis, identification of cost drivers, and the allocation of (virtually all) costs to products. Alongside the simple statements on the nature of the new system, however, were different views about its purposes. So, Kaplan's and Cooper's ABC was a more accurate costing technique for strategic decisions, Johnson's was an attention directing means of managing staff activities, and Brimson's ‘Activity Accounting’ was concerned with the identification of indirect costs for AMT investment decisions and performance measurement. For a while, this ambiguous simplicity enabled the various writers to unite in their advocacy of the new system—each translating ABC to their own interests. Thus the abstract system that was disembedded was already different from the concrete practices in the manufacturing sites. Simplicity and ambiguity facilitated the attraction of many allies to the Harvard and CAM-I networks and led to the rapid and widespread dissemination of first-wave ABC. Within just a few years, hundreds of articles were published, and surveys in the USA and UK disclosed widespread awareness of a new form of management accounting among accountants and managers. Yet even as this was happening, the system-builders experienced external challenges and internal reflexions that transformed their accounting system and produced a second-wave ABC that was fundamentally different from the early form. Defending ABC against general academic criticism, and more particularly confrontation with the rival network of Eli Goldratt and the Theory of Constraints, led to Kaplan and Cooper redefining their concept of resources and creating a model of cost hierarchy. This entailed the abandoning some of the key simplicities of first-wave ABC—‘allocation’ was replaced by ‘estimation’, ‘accuracy’ was redefined as subjective judgement rather than objective fact, certainty over the variability of ‘almost all’ costs became an extended taxonomy of fixed costs, and the determination of product costs moved from the centre stage to a neglected peripheral position. Thus the change in Kaplan and Cooper's ABC cannot be described as a refinement or development of their original propositions. Much of the first-wave ABC was jettisoned and wholly new elements were inserted. Second-wave ABC represented a quite different accounting—one which was a contribution margin approach rather than an absorption costing system. By the early 1990s there were two, dissimilar, ABC systems in circulation, and both continued to circulate for the rest of the decade. Many members of the CAM-I network, management consultants and authors of articles and textbooks remained faithful to first-wave ABC, whilst Kaplan and Cooper generally distanced themselves from this (mis)understanding of ABC. Since surveys of adoption in organizations did not make a distinction between the two forms of ABC, it is difficult to be certain about which form managers claimed to be implementing. However, the heavy emphasis on product cost applications gives the firm impression that it was the first-wave form. Similarly, it is difficult to be certain which form of ABC is embedded in ERP systems. The involvement of Kaplan may suggest that the second-wave form is incorporated—and indeed this is the claim occasionally put forward by the vendors. However, we have met scepticism from potential buyers about whether these claimed facilities can actually be delivered, and have a strong suspicion that the systems are aimed at fully-absorbed product costs.48 With two different ABCs in circulation, simplicity was compromised, and the ambiguities became more problematic. This led some, most notably Johnson, to abandon ABC. Others ignored the second version and continued to identify the earlier form as the correct—indeed the only—version. Others again, including Kaplan in his retrospectives and textbooks, assimilated the two forms as stages in an evolutionary progress of management accounting knowledge. Few noted or examined the dramatic transformations that occurred in the 1989 revisions. Our analysis of the history of ABC demonstrates that a close attention to the particularities, the times and spaces of its development as an abstract system, evaporates such views of the development of accounting knowledge. First-wave ABC was never a single thing (system, theory, practice) that might be accepted or rejected. Instead it was a loose alliance of ideas, allying theoretical predispositions and selective reading of field studies, translated by and translating various interests. Nor was second-wave ABC simply a development of latencies in the earlier form. Rather it was a re-formation of accounting knowledge in the light of battles and reflexions. Nor, in the end, was second-wave distinctly different from first-wave, since in their mutual circulation hybrid forms were created in which analytically clear distinctions between absorption and marginal approaches became blurred in the articulation and application of ABC as a technoscience system. The term ABC now covers a melange of competing, and often contradictory, ideas and practices that may appear to be without authors, or authors so multiple that no clear guiding intelligence can be identified. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, ABC became aggrandized into a ‘management philosophy’ under the acronyms ABCM and ABM. What had begun as a product costing system had become the basis for managing activities, especially through the identification of those that were value-adding and those non-value-adding—and the elimination of the latter. Originally informed by the Harvard ‘productionist’ approach to manufacturing competitiveness, ABC was transformed into an ABM philosophy closely in tune with the ‘downsizing’ and ‘delayering’ aspirations of corporate executives. For those, especially in salaried staff positions, most likely to be affected by this tendency ABM constituted a system that threatened the conditions and security of their employment. But, as Armstrong (forthcoming) argues, even for executives ABM may prove an untrustworthy system that fails to comprehend the nature of managerial work and is thus an unreliable technology for achieving long-term profitability. Advanced as a solution to problems created by global change in manufacturing, ABC emerged as an expert system claiming to help managers gain control in the modern world, but which itself created new forms of risk. The ABC bandwagon had become hitched to the juggernaut of modernity.