Summary of Panel Discussion
"Retreat from Methods"
Panel participants were Anthony
Hopwood (Oxford University), Jake Birnberg (University of Pittsburgh), and Dan
Stone (University of Kentucky).
Panel on "Retreat
The session began with the comments
of Professor Hopwood whose informal comments at last year's conference sparked
interest in this topic. Specifically, Professor Hopwood discussed his concerns
that the majority of new work in behavior and organizations is performed using
experimental and quasi-experimental methods with less and less focus on field
and organizational research. Although interesting work has resulted from
experimental papers in the capital markets/financial reporting areas, Professor
Hopwood argued that the body of knowledge generated from audit judgment
research is much less satisfying. He argued there is too little cumulative
knowledge and too little relevant research coming out of lab-based studies in
Overall, Professor Hopwood argued
that business school researchers in general have fewer links to practice than
may be the case in other professional schools (e.g., law). One of the
underlying causes may be current pressures on academics to perform what he
termed "careerist" as opposed to "curiosity-based"
research. That is, a focus on quick studies using student subjects in lab
settings that add only incrementally to the body of knowledge, but ensure
pre-tenured faculty a quick publication in a journal of reasonable quality.
Field research, on the other hand, requires the development of longer term
relationships with real managers in real organizations as well as the gathering
of in-depth and sometimes longitudinal data. Although field research in real
organizations has both methodological advantages and disadvantages, lab
experiments may also be "deeply problematic" from a methodological
point of view.
Professor Birnberg then discussed
his view that we may not have fully defined the problem we are trying to
tackle. In his opinion, the problem may be either a focus on the wrong method
and/or the failure to identify really interesting research questions. He
encouraged accounting researchers to look outside of accounting for experts in
methodologies with which accountants may be less familiar (including, for
example, qualitative and field work). He also argued that our colleagues in
management as well as management science are involved in many current studies
that cross over into the field of accounting broadly defined. He encouraged
accounting researchers to read widely outside of accounting when trying to
formulate really interesting research questions. In addition, Professor
Birnberg cautioned that realistically, some of this work would have to be
published in good journals outside of the field of accounting.
Professor Stone provided the final
comments of the session. The theme of his comments revolved around his concern
that the journals published by the AAA do not reflect the variety of research
being performed by AAA members. According to Professor Stone, one explanation
for the lack of variety in terms of method may be that we fail to adequately
train our doctoral students in non-mainstream methodologies. In fact, Professor
Stone observed that a large proportion of the doctoral consortium participants
that he met at the consortium this year had little or no exposure to research
outside of the mainstream capital markets-based empirical literature in
accounting. If this continues, we should not be surprised that the focus of
published research in accounting continues to narrow.
Although all three speakers
recognized the pressures on untenured accounting academics today to publish a
large number of papers in what are termed "A" quality journals, they
all seemed to agree that our focus should be less on the quality of journal in
which the paper is published and more on the quality of the research itself.
Does it ask an interesting question, apply an appropriate method, and provide
some significant insights into an issue that we knew less about before the
study was done?