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The contributions of interpretive and relational research in (management) accounting and control

Special issue call for papers from Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management


The debate on qualitative research in accounting and management has long gone beyond the legitimacy question. Rather than defending qualitative research against quantitative research (Parker, 2012), discussions now concern the contribution qualitative research has made to our knowledge of accounting in the past, and the contributions it may have in the future (Ahrens, 2008; Lowe, De Loo and Nama, 2016; Lukka and Vinnari, 2014). The quality and contribution of qualitative research should be assessed relative to its own ontological and epistemological assumptions (Healy and Perry, 2000; Richardson, 2012). According to Chua and Mahama (2012), qualitative research particularly can lead to enactive knowledge: knowledge based on the active workings of management accounting and management accountants in organizations. Such knowledge is said to be different from the instrumental knowledge typically produced by mainstream accounting research, which is chiefly based on quantitative research methods. Whereas instrumental knowledge is of use to practitioners in the making and control of organizational decisions and is often captured in a rational means-end dichotomy (Van der Meer-Kooistra and Vosselman, 2012), enactive knowledge may have considerable conceptual relevance to practitioners. Practitioners can reflect on such knowledge in order to reach different understandings of the situations they encounter in practice, and are actively part of.
Although the concept of enactive knowledge is related to the concept of interpretive knowledge, enactive knowledge goes beyond knowledge about how reality is “subjectively created, and objectified through human interaction” (Chua, 1986, p. 615). Interpretive knowledge centralizes human beings and their interactions. Walsham (1995) asserts that theorization through interpretive research is possible, but that this should be approached with care, and ought not to be considered the only or most preferable outcome of such research. The same holds for the combination of theories, which seems to have gained popularity in interpretive accounting research (e.g., Modell, Vinnari and Lukka, 2017; Modell, 2014). This may be done, but is not necessarily the ‘best’ or preferable way to go about in such research. Despite what some have claimed (e.g., Ahrens, 2008; Lukka and Vinnari, 2014), there may still be a lot to learn about interpretive accounting research before theorizations can viably be discussed.

Enactive knowledge differs from knowledge based on interpretative research in that it particularly addresses the relational agency (Mahama, Elbashir, Sutton and Arnold, 2016) of accounting and control in networks of associations between human and other-than-human actors. It focuses on how accounting is framed, reshaped and changes, and is made to act through interactions with other actors. Although there have been papers that review relational research in accounting (e.g., Sage, Justesen, Dainty, Tryggestad, and Mouritsen, 2016; Robson and Bottausci, 2017; Vosselman, 2014), there still is a need for papers that further synthesize and specify the contributions of this research and pave the way for future research. To a large extent, relational research in the field of management accounting and control has been inspired by specific interpretations of actor-network theory and practice theories. What new understandings of accounting and control, either as an actor or a practice, may be developed if we take current developments a step further (Chua and Mahama, 2012)? (How) can they bring greater theorizing into reach? Is it really that important that theorization is brought into the fore at all? It has been claimed that the specific contribution of qualitative accounting research lies at the intersection between theoretical ideas, empirical sites, and wicked research problems (Chua and Mahama, ibid.). What then are the problems and dilemmas researchers typically encounter at such an intersection? What are the organizational and managerial implications of subsequent theorizations, which may or may not be conducted?

Submissions on these topics

Of particular interest for this special issue is a further exploration of the ontological, epistemological and methodological consequences of different interpretive and relational views on (management) accounting and control. In particular, we invite papers that address:

  • Accounting and control as relational ontologies versus accounting and control as instrumental ontologies: ontological, epistemological and methodological consequences
  • The contributions of interpretive accounting research so far, and the organizational, managerial and/or societal consequences hereof
  • The contributions of relational research in accounting so far, and the organizational, managerial and/or societal consequences
  • The role of theory and theorization in interpretive and relational research
  • The possibilities and ontological and epistemological foundations of combining theories in interpretive and relational research
  • Problems and dilemmas in theorizing through interpretive and relational research
  • The (potential) contributions of different branches of practice theory to our understanding of management accounting and control practice
  • Definitions of ‘the field’ that interpretive/enactive researchers engage with, and are active constituents of when they reflect on their involvement in the research act.

Submissions and Deadlines

  • Please submit by 27 November 2018
  • Manuscripts submissions should be made via the QRAM Scholar One Manuscripts selecting the special issue from the list
  • Please check the author guidelines before submitting


Ahrens, T., 2008. Overcoming the subjective-objective divide in interpretive management accounting research. Accounting, Organizations and Society. 33, 2, 292-297.
Chua, W.F., 1986. Radical developments in accounting thought. The Accounting Review. 61, 4, 601-632.
Chua, W.F., Mahama, H., 2012. On theory as a ‘deliverable’ and its relevance in ‘policy’ arenas. Critical Perspectives on Accounting. 23, 1, 78-82.
Healy, M., Perry, C. (2000). Comprehensive criteria to judge validity and reliability of qualitative research within the realism paradigm. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal. 3, 3, 118-126.
Lowe, A.D., De Loo, I., Nama, Y., 2016. Cutting the Gordian knot [?]: a response to Lukka and Vinnari (2014). Accounting, Auditing & Accountability. 29, 2, 305-316.
Lukka, K., Vinnari, E., 2014. Domain theory and method theory in management accounting research. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal. 27, 8. 1308-1338.
Mahama, H., Elbashir, M.Z., Sutton, S.G., Arnold, V., 2016. A further interpretation of the relational agency of information systems: a research note. International Journal of Accounting Information Systems. 20, 1, 16-25.
Modell, S., 2014. The societal relevance of management accounting: an introduction to the special issue. Accounting and Business Research. 44, 2, 83-103.
Modell, S., Vinnari, E., Lukka, K., 2017. On the virtues and vices of combining theories: the case of institutional and actor-network theories in accounting research. Accounting, Organizations and Society. 60, 1, 62–78.
Richardson, A.J., 2012. Paradigms, theory and management accounting practice. Critical Perspectives on Accounting. 23, 1, 83-88.
Robson, K., Bottausci, C., 2017. The sociology of translation and accounting inscriptions: reflections on Latour and accounting research. Critical Perspectives on Accounting (forthcoming).
Sage, D. Justesen, J. Dainty, A. Tryggestad, K., Mouritsen, J., 2016. Organizing space and time through relational human-animal boundary work: exclusion, invitation and disturbance. 23, 3, 434-450.
Vosselman, E.G.J., 2014. The 'performativity thesis' and its critics: towards a relational ontology of management accounting. Accounting and Business Research. 44, 2, 181-203.
Vosselman, E.G.J., van der Meer-Kooistra, J., 2012. Research paradigms, theoretical pluralism and the practical relevance of management accounting knowledge. Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management. 9, 3, 245-264.
Walsham, G., 1995. Interpretive case studies in IS research: nature and method. European Journal of Information Systems. 4, 2, 74-81.