Message from the Chair

Norman B. Macintosh

The "message from the chair" column presents that rare opportunity for one to render a considerate opinion about the ,,state of affairs" of the ABO section. When faced with a blank piece of paper however, I found I did not have very much wisdom to forward. So I will limit my rhetoric to some remarks about our public image, and then say something about the state of affairs of the ABO Section.

ABO Section as hubris

For many of us the major concern regarding the ABO Section seems to be "hubris." Hubris conjures up in the public mind not just an insufferable attitude towards ourselves, but also a goodly measure of disapproval by other academic accountants for a cast of mind that believes accounting is more than simply measurement or providing accurate, timely and relevant information to the ubiquitous decision maker, or that all we need to know about accounting can be perfectly well understood by treating accounting, accounting information and accountants as a commodity and apply information economics and game theory techniques to them. So when we declare that our domain includes not only cognition, psychology, expert judgement and motivation but also sociology, political science, ethnography, critical social theory and ethics and morality, other accounting academics shout "hubris. "

This, of course, is hubris in the sense of a shorthand signal, a warning, a sense of outrage that conjures up the original meaning of the word that "if man starts doing things reserved for the gods, deifying himself, the outcome will be something worse for him, symbolically, than the litters of wild boars and domestic sows were for the ancient Romans" (L. Thomas, The Medusa and the Snail, 1980). While it is okay for us to be quasi-economists it is somehow anti-scientific and anti-intellectual to be quasi-sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists or philosophers since these are the special prerogative of the gods of the "soft" disciplines. Yet, the ABO Section was formed originally to expand the domain of accounting scholarship beyond homoeconimicus.

Nevertheless, hubris seems to describe the ABO section remarkably well. Moreover, most of us like it that way. While, by and large, we make our living just like other accounting academics teaching some form or other of double entry booking (introductory, intermediate, advanced, consolidations, tax, cost accounting, auditing, etc.) we get our intellectual stimulation from addressing accounting issues and problems in a way that economic theory cannot do very well. This is not to suggest that little has been learned from the latter, rather it is to say, for example, that philosophy is a better way to investigate the role of accounting in corporate cultures, critical social theory is a better way of analyzing the power and morality dimensions of management control systems, and that expert Norman B. Macintosh judgement theory is a better way to sort out the way professional accountants make job-related decisions.

Nor does this mean that "anything goes." Rather it signals that these other disciplines are based on different epistemological and ontological foundations and that when we do research in these genres we must meet their standards of scholarship, fastidiousness and rigor. What these other disciplines offer us are epistemologies suitable to investigate a host of issues and problems that do not surface from the economics perspective. If my argument holds at this level, I can see no reason why it cannot be settled by "rational" people and have research honored in our own institutions.

So it seems pretty clear to me that a viable strategy for us, at least for the next little while, is to follow our original mandate as set out when ABO first appeared. Larry Ponemon said it well in the Winter 1995, ABO Reporter; it is to pursue the scholarly need for researching, teaching and practicing a full range of research including the social, political, economic, philosophical, psychological and cognitive realms of accounting in organizations and society.

Thus, on the one hand, I am worried about the fact that of the eighteen articles in the regular issues of BRIA in 1994 and 1995, fourteen were about auditing and auditors, thirteen were lab experiments and four were cross-sectional questionnaires. This suggests that we have been moving BRIA towards becoming a niche journal (experiments and auditing) rather than a broad-based one. Yet, on the other hand, I am heartened by seeing articles appear such as Seleschi Sesaye's (BRIA, 1995) which emphasized the role of accounting in power, organizational structures, resource allocation and change and which addressed these with a non-structural-functional-rationaI epistemology. Similarly, the 1994 Special Issue of BRIA edited by Paul Munter and Gail Wright reflected the broad base behavioral interests of the ABO membership by including topics such as the relationship of accounting to obedience pressure, tax law motivation, feminist theory, standard setting process and culture. And the forthcoming Special Issue of BRIA edited by Don Finn and Larry Ponemon focuses on ethics, morality and culture. These are indications of the breadth of the ABO membership's scholarship interests.

So it seems to me that BRIA should aim not to be a niche journal but rather, without jeopardizing scholarly excellence, strive to be a broad-based outlet for quality behavioral accounting research, By this time it will have become clear that I have already taken sides in this matter and that my point of view is entirely prejudiced. So, I encourage you to let the ABO executives and our BRIA editors know your views. Now let's turn to what might be called our "salvation anxiety complex."

What are we and who cares?

As a species, we humans have never been so self-conscious about ourselves as we seem to be these days. We seem to have a natural urge in this direction. So, it is no surprise that ABO Section members may feel the same way. So, what are we and who should care? When looked at this way, the answer is "We are what we do, we do a lot and if we do it well, others will care. "

For starters, we put out the BRIA journal (which ranked above The Accounting Review in importance and satisfaction in the Market Probe survey of members!). We also organized and carried off two very successful research conferences. Second, the section jointly organized and ran The Third Management Control Systems Symposium in London last summer. The symposium attracted over 100 participants from 15 different countries and included a doctoral student consortium. Both conferences proved to be huge successes. And thanks to Mike Bamber and Seleshi Sasaye, the 1996 and 1997 ABO conferences are already organized.

We also have a network of about 20 highly respected, country liaison officers strung around the globe. Furthermore, nearly one-third of our members are from outside the USA. The opportunity for cross country collaboration on research seems to be just sitting there waiting to be kick-started--and, in fact, a few of us (Ken Euske, Ken Merchant and myself) have already embarked on some very rewarding research projects with ABO members in other countries.

We can also point to The ABO Reporter with pride. In the Market Probe survey, thanks largely to Phil Siegel, of the 14 AAA newsletters, ours ranks among the top three. We also had several excellent sessions at the AAA 1995 annual meeting (Alan Lord). We initiated the first ABO Section Outstanding Behavioral Research Award (Larry Ponemon and committee) which honored Bob Ashton. We carried on the task of selecting the Doctoral Dissertation Award (Jim Peters and committee). Vicky Arnold is already hard at work organizing the 1996 annual meeting paper and workshop sessions. Gail Wright is keeping the ABO flag flying on the new and exciting FASB liaison research project. Steve Sutton and Vicky Arnold are almost finished the ABO Research Monograph: Foundation and Frontiers, which is aimed at doctoral students and faculty in need of re-tooling, and is on target for publication next Spring. Jerry Strawser and John Rigsby are managing the Working Paper Series; and a host of Regional Coordinators continued to promote behavioral research at the annual regional meetings.

So, there you have it. If we pause to take stock, there is no good reason at all for any of us to have an inferiority complex. In fact, when we step back and look at ourselves, what we accomplish seems to be an extraordinary feat--all the more remarkable because we do it voluntarily in our spare time. While we can't be all things to all people, we are a lot of things to a lot of people. So the big reward is not recognition from the rest of the AAA membership for these accomplishments and efforts but rather personal. It is the unique opportunity to meet and become colleagues and friends with a lot of very fine and interesting people spread right around the planet. And who knows -- with time and some luck -- we can have some fun along the way.

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