Summary by James R. Martin, Ph.D., CMA
Professor Emeritus, University of South Florida
The purpose of this short paper is to comment on Zimmerman's (2001) view that the way to develop a cumulative body of theoretical knowledge in management accounting is to use one paradigm for management accounting research based on economics. The authors argue that this "normal science" approach would be dangerous and threaten the management accounting research community's ability for progress.
Lukka and Mouritsen go on to say that Zimmerman's concerns are important. We do need more rigor, more testing and more theory, but to accept his "mono-paradigmatic position" would silence various insights about management accounting that come from using a variety of research approaches. They argue that Zimmerman is making a value judgment with a political tone. They discuss several research papers to support their argument that various issues would be silenced if a single economics-based paradigm were adopted. For example, one study deals with the instability of management accounting, while another study hinges on competition between accountants and other professions within organizations.
In addition, generalizations are derived in different ways using different approaches. In economics-based approaches random samples produce statistical support for generalizations about a population. In other approaches, such as field research, outcomes of individual studies are generalized by examining how the results of various studies are related and "can be made to talk to each other". Generalizations from field studies can add to generalizations made from statistical analysis.
Another point the authors make is that different research agendas provide different stories about the same case evidence and issues. For example, they mention a study of Caterpillar by Miller and O'Leary (1994) that could be viewed as a causal model - competition leads to the adoption of a management accounting system that is process-based. But the story could be told in a much different, more involved way in that competition, the failure of the U.S. factory system and the success of the Japanese system lead Caterpillar to restructure with all the associated problems and changes related to people, systems, organization routines and strategies.
Homogeneity in the marketplace for research would be be costly since the inducement for change would be lost. In their view heterogeneity is preferable. The door for change should be kept open.
Articles related to this issue in the order that they were published.
Ittner, C. D. and D. F. Larcker. 2001. Assessing empirical research in managerial accounting: A value-based management perspective. Journal of Accounting and Economics (December): 349-410. (Summary).
Zimmerman, J. L. 2001. Conjectures regarding empirical managerial accounting research. Journal of Accounting and Economics (December): 411-427. (Summary).
Hopwood, A. G. 2002. If only there were simple solutions, but there aren't: Some reflections on Zimmerman's critique of empirical management accounting research. The European Accounting Review 11(4): 777-785. (Summary).
Ittner, C. D. and D. F. Larcker. 2002. Empirical managerial accounting research: Are we just describing management consulting practice? The European Accounting Review 11(4): 787-794. (Summary).
Luft, J. and M. D. Shields. 2002. Zimmerman's contentious conjectures: Describing the present and prescribing the future of empirical management accounting research. The European Accounting Review 11(4): 795-803. (Summary).
Lukka, K. and J. Mouritsen. 2002. Homogeneity or heterogeneity of research in management accounting? The European Accounting Review 11(4): 805-811.