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Jonsson, S. 1998. Relate management accounting research to managerial work! Accounting, Organizations and Society 23(4): 411-434.

Summary by Eileen Z. Taylor
Ph.D. Program in Accounting
University of South Florida, Spring 2004

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The purpose of the article is to remind management accounting researchers that they need to pay attention to how managers within an organization communicate. Rather than focus solely on management accounting tools and techniques, researchers need to remember that managers make decisions. Although they use accounting information, generation of such information is not the ‘end of the line.’ How management uses that information should also be considered. The author states “The relevance of accounting information will depend upon its ability to relate to the work mangers do.” (p.412). Thus the call to study managerial work processes.

Managerial Work

The paper covers three types of managerial research. Carlson (1951), used a diary approach to record managerial activities. It was found that managers spent much of the time interacting with people both within and outside of the organization and that little time was spent on analytical problem-solving. In fact, most of the time was spent dealing with the functional areas in the organization. Mintzberg (1973) used participative observation which resulted in his ability to create a typology of leader roles. He found that managerial work was characterized by “brevity, variety, and fragmentation.”(p.413) Last, Kotter (1982) used a combination of approaches to studying managerial behavior. He found that managers spend time team-building and networking. The way they accomplish their goals is based on their background and career experience.

Jonsson points out that managers are key people in the organization; therefore, they need to be studied: “It is the everyday manger who will determine what is relevant, the everyday manager in context”(p.415).

The constitution of conversation

Jonsson then indicates that managers get things done through their conversations with others. Therefore, the artifact we, as researchers, should study, is conversation and communication. He uses Goffman’s (1981) structure for meaningful conversation. Further, he pulls in the work of Grice (1989), who set four rules for conversational cooperation. They include:

Quantity: say only what is needed and no more.

Quality: say only what is true.

Relation: be relevant.

Manner: be perspicuous (clear and easy to understand)

Figure 1 shows the factors of communication.

Factors of Communication

Building Institutions

Jonsson then discusses how managerial institutions are built. An underlying characteristic is trust. Given the rules of communication, for an individual to rely on what another says, there must be a sufficient degree of trust. This trust enables the quasi-contract that allows meaningful conversation to exist.

Interpretive versus Empiricist Repertoire

“Interpretive repertoires are recurrently used systems of terms used for characterizing and evaluating actions, events and phenomena” (Potter & Wetherell 1987 p.149), whereas, the “empiricist repertoire is that actions and beliefs are a neutral medium through which empirical phenomena make themselves felt” (p.422). In other words, empirical work is objective; what is observed is a manifestation of what truly exists. Interpretive work (also called ‘contingent’) is used to explain deviations from expected, theory-based results. Jonsson posits that the contingent approach can be used by anyone to discount findings that disagree with their own.

Case Study

The final part of the paper details a case study of a governmental unit in Sweden. The data collected consisted of videotaped meetings, as well as post hoc interviews with those who participated in the meetings. The author identifies two aspects of interest. First, the concrete case represents the facts associated with the agenda item, setting rules for internal rents. The concrete case “relates meaning to context” (p.428). The second, the recipe, relates meaning to role. A concrete case can be used to study the facts; whereas, the recipe helps the researcher understand each participants process in relating to each other.


The paper concludes by calling the researcher’s attention to communication as a focus. In order to study the complete picture, one cannot ignore how people relate to one another, the roles they possess, and their actual behavior. This type of research is termed Ethnomethodology. It is validated because it looks objectively at statements made by individuals—it does not seek to ascribe feelings or inner thoughts to participants. The data can be reviewed independently and is not shaped by a prior researcher’s interpretation. It focuses on social phenomenon, which is a necessary part of studying human behavior.


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