Management Accounting Change: Actor-Network Theory vs. Evolutionary Theories

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Management accounting “lies not only in techniques but also in the changing context in which such techniques evolve; not only in the implementations of techniques, but also the effects of such implementations; not only in one-sided but also in multiple aspects” (Alawattage and Wickramasinghe, 2007). Therefore there have been many bodies of theories that have explored the external pressures as well as internal transformations of management accounting change. The two bodies of theory that we are going to compare and contrast in relation to management accounting and control systems change are evolutionary theories and Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and are both considered ‘interpretive theories’ within management accounting intellectual bodies and theorists. Before we can discuss the relative contributions of the two bodies of theory, in regards to management accounting change, we must identify ‘change’ has occurred within management accounting. Some “claim that the fundamental nature of management accounting systems and practices have not changed” (Drury et al, 1993), however there is evidence that management accounting and control systems have changed (Bromwich and Bhimani, 1994), for example “managers now appear to be using their accounting systems and routine financial reports more flexibly and in conjunction with a range of other performance measures” (Miller and O’Leary, 1993). Moreover the management accounting environment has drastically changed in a geographical and historical context, “with advances in information technology, more competitive markets, and different organisational structures” (Burns and Scapens, 2000). As we have determined there has been change within management accounting in the last 10 years, we can define what evolutionary theories and ANT is in regard to management accounting and control system change. Both bodies of theory are interpretive and generally “the interpretive perspective is a particular methodology for doing management accounting research, a belief that practices of management accounting are the outcomes of shared meanings of organisational actors” (Alawattage and Wickramasinghe, 2007). Allowing us to examine change within management accounting through the explorations of how human interactions operate within an organisation. However both sets of theory fundamentally differ; as in ANT “management accounting is regarded as a technology of control which is subject to actors’ promotional roles through networks” (Alcouffe et al, 2008). Whereas evolutionary theory is a framework combined from structuration theory which conceptualises the duality of structure: “organizations' social structures are constituted by either agency or human action and, simultaneously, are the medium of the constitution” (Macintosh and Scapens, 1990); and furthermore this approach does not focus on an individual actor as above "but social practices ordered across space and time" (Giddens, 1986). As well as old institutional economics, which is based upon neoclassical economists predicting for an organisation their “industry and market-level scenarios, such as costs, prices, sales volume” in order to meet or set ‘target goals’ (Alawattage and Wickramasinghe, 2007). Therefore evolutionary theory was conjured to combine old institutional economics and structuration theory as old institutional economics could not “explain the behaviour of managers who use management accounting within an organisation” (Alawattage and Wickramasinghe, 2007), which structuration theory could. Hence helping in understanding the evolutionary process of management accounting and the role of institutions in influencing an organisations economic conduct in regards to ‘change’. Consequently, the integral differences between the theories are the concepts behind them. For example ANT focuses on four processes to explain an idea these being problematisation, interessement, enrolment and mobilization; while evolutionary theory focuses on rules...
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