Sequiturs and Non-Sequiturs From The Chair
The annual ABO Executive meeting was held in Toronto last November with 15 executives in attendance. The meeting featured a Strategic Planning Workshop (using the Queen's University computerized group decision support system) in response to an ongoing initiative by the AAA Executive Committee to have each section develop a strategic plan. The plan is to include a mission statement and general goals (distinctive capabilities required to achieve the mission in each category) for: (1) Research, (2) Teaching, (3) Practice and (4) Section administration. As well, the exercise is to include specific strategies (critical things we must do to achieve the goals). At this workshop, we worked on sketching out a strategic plan for the research activity with the idea of completing the other three categories in future years.
The resulting mission statement reads: "The purpose of the ABO is to provide a forum to promote and disseminate behavioral knowledge and issues in the research, teaching and practice of accounting. " The goals for research are to promote, facilitate, disseminate and continuously improve quality behavioral accounting research and to have outstanding research recognized. The specific activities necessary to achieve this goal include: publication of the ABO section journal BRIA and special issues; holding of conferences; sessions at the general and regional meetings; working paper series; section research monograph; doctoral dissertation award; and outstanding research contribution award. Since we are already doing all this we decided the section has already achieved excellence in its research mission!
Several ideas emerged for future developments from the Brainstorming part of the session including: input into the AAA doctoral consortium, including choice of faculty; place the newsletter on internet; publish BRIA on CD ROM; promote more involvement by our international members in ABO affairs; run joint conferences with other AAA sections; develop a home page for the World Wide Web; and develop links with other behavioral science and management groups.
Don Finn will take over from Jake Birnberg on June 1 as our fourth editor of BRIA. A few years ago Ken Euske took on the precarious and arduous task of giving birth to a new journal. The first issue appeared in 1989. A couple of years later, Ken Ferris assumed the editorship and by 1993 BRIA ranked tenth in the list of top accounting and MIS journals. Then, under Jake Birnberg's expert hand, BRIA climbed to sixth place and even ranked above The Accounting Review in the AAA Members Satisfaction Report (January 1995) in terms of relevance, importance and satisfaction. All this in only seven years in a decade when dozens of new accounting and information systems journal have appeared. Our thanks and congratulations go out to Ken, Ken and Jake.
All in all, the ABO Section seems to be well, even thriving. We have a network of country liaison officers strung around the globe and Ken Euske has organized a famous "dinner meeting" with them at the annual European Academic Accounting Symposium in Norway in April. Vicky Arnold will take on The ABO Reporter from Phil Siegel who has done a magnificent job on it for three years. Mike Bamber, along with Alan Lord and Bob Ramsey, have the 1996 research conference organized for Las Vegas and Seleshi Sisaye has the 1997 conference set to go in May 1997 in Pittsburgh. Gail Wright and Lyn Graham are keeping us active in the FASB liaison research project. Steve Sutton and Vicky Arnold will have the AB O Research Monograph: Foundations and Frontiers published in a couple of months. Our regional representatives are getting things done at the grass roots level. Vicky Arnold pretty much has the ABO sessions organized for the AAA 1996 annual meeting and ABO has been allocated even more sessions than last year. Our membership is holding steady at around 1,350 and our cash position is about $25,000. And, best of all, we have a fantastic executive team who have been a pleasure to work withthey made my job easy and enjoyable.
Now for a non-sequitor on the notion of a "mainstream" in scholarly accounting research. My proposition is that there may have been such a thing a decade ago when scholars focused on a relatively narrow range of problems, relying mostly on economic theory. In today's postmortem world, however, the mainstream is no more. The old myth was that if you didn't do so-called mainstream research you would not have a successful career and you were unlikely to ever attain full professor status. Historical evidence, however, does not bear this out. I personally know dozens and dozens of behavioral and social accounting scholars, in the USA and around the globe, who are having very successful academic careers and have made "full. " In fact, arguing from the most practical down-to-earth, pragmatic point of view, it is probably easier today to succeed doing behavioral research than working in agency theory, market studies or experimental economics.
Today there are over fifty refereed accounting and information system journals around the globe. Many of them publish excellent articles on a wide variety of critical accounting issues. This month I have enjoyed super articles in journals such as: Journal of Accounting and Public Policy; Critical Perspectives on Accounting; Accounting Organizations and Society, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal; Journal of Management Accounting Research; British Accounting Review; European Accounting Review; Accounting, Management and Information Technologies; Management Accounting Research; Contemporary Accounting Research; Advances in Public Interest Accounting and, of course, BRIA.
A few examples of well-crafted important articles for me, which I read recently, include: Mike Shields' "An Empirical Analysis: Firms Implementation Experiences with Activity Based Costing" JMAR (Fall 1995); Roland Monro's "Managing by Ambiguity: An Archaeology of the Social in the Absence of Management Accounting" CPA (October 1995); Cynthia Jeffrey and Nancy Weatherbolt's "Ethical Development, Professional Commitment and Rule Observation Attitudes" BRIA (1996); Richard Laughlin's "Empirical Research in Accounting: Alternative Approaches and a Case for Middle-Range Thinking" AAAJ (8:1 1995) and for fascinating articles on the shifting discourses in corporate annual reports I recommend in the special section of AOS (January 1996) entitled "Making Visible and the Construction of Visibilities: Shifting Agendas in the Design of the Corporate Report" particularly the article by Alistair Preston, Chris Wright and Joni Young "Imag(in)ing Annual Reports." Everyone should take a look at the inspiring article "The Mountains are Still There: Accounting Academics and the Bearings of Intellectuals" by Prem. Sikka, Hugh Willmott and Tony Puxty in Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal. And if you are really interested in teaching, The Special Issue on Accounting Education: Critical Perspectives on Accounting (Feb./April 1996) is a must.
But this is not my main point. What I want to argue is that in today's postmodern world there is no mainstream, but rather the waterfront is teaming with accounting research relying on a variety of epistemologies including: psychology, cognition, social psychology, political theory, moral reasoning, critical social theory, ethics, fuzzy sets, chaos theory, culture, history, institutional theory, hermeneutics philosophy, feminist theory, interpretive ethnography, deconstruction and even literary theory. Economics with its homo-econimicus ontology and its scientific positivistic epistemology is only one among many equally valid ways to do accounting research. This is what I have in mind.
So the upshot is that this ought to be the best of times for behavioral and social accounting researchers. There are a wide variety of journals in which to publish quality research. What we need to do is to help deans, department heads, and tenure and promotion committees realize that excellent research appears in a wide network of journals with a variety of interests, epistemologies and ontological premises. Research quality can no longer be judged just by the name of the journal in which an article appears. Instead, it means that evaluators will have to actually read the candidate's articles. To marginalize excellent research papers in, say, ethics and accounting, because they were not published in such and such a journal is just not done anymore. Surely at the end of the day ethics is as or more important than stock market fluctuations.
So much for the practical side of my argument. In closing, I believe there is, in a certain sense, something that we in the ABO Section should be able to do. And that is, to paraphrase Sikka et al. (1995), to impress accounting academics of all stripes that we can be intellectuals as well as careerists. After all, universities are places where persons of sound understanding and intelligence are supposed to ask searching and inconvenient questions; challenge the currently taken-for-granted wisdom which was once considered unconventional, even eccentric; unsettle established regimes of truth; clear spaces for research that was previously marginalized; engender public debates about hidden political agendas; confront hypocracy and affectation; retain an independent voice; and see the world as a place of sundry opportunities for change, Let us not permit careerism to interfere with what Abraham Briloff might call our privileged and sacred covenant as academics-to critique and change the status quo.