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July 2010

Towards a Theory of Accounting for Lunch (an attempt at academic humour)

Having lunch could be interpreted as social theatre, rich with ideas and transcendent theories. A couple of days ago we had the privilege of lunching in the Great Hall at the University of Sydney.

Although the Great Hall is a massive room, with plenty of space for people to mingle, I could not help but notice how the delegates congregated in their own “cliques” – like when we were back in high school and only did lunch with our own pose.

The Executive Lunch that was served on the second day was meant to change this strange phenomenon. The idea of the lunch was to allow delegates the freedom of not being chained to any particular table. After collecting our “lunch box” from the main foyer of the conference hall we were set free like doves to explore our surroundings. A brilliant idea which I thought would finally help to break up these cliques - to create a new social dynamic! But here is what I observed from a range of different perspectives (we are at an interdisciplinary research conference after all).

Positivistic perspective –
H0: That people congregate to their familiar support groups and structures (flocking effect) even in the face of counteracting forces to do otherwise.

H1: That people will alter their normal tendency to flock, if a conducive social environment is present.

Conclusion: H1 is disproved. Accept Null Hypothesis. (T-tests and correlation coefficients available on request).

Interpretivist perspective –
That based on my particular social standing given the pervading cultural and socio political norms that govern the process of eating lunch, “I” observed that people seemed to group together in their habitual and reinforced social circles.

Critical perspective –
That power structures and social hierarchies constrict social interaction by dehumanising actors and emphasising their roles within the power structure of the academic community.

These theories are still at an early stage of development and have actually all been disproved. Apparently all you have to do break into a clique is smile and say hello!!! But all joking aside, lunch was the best time to network and meet very interesting people. Thank you to everyone I have had the pleasure of having lunch with!

The art of writing is something that I at times take for granted. There are too many things to write; emails, papers, reviews of papers, tests, exams, suggested solutions for these tests and exams…and the list goes on. Writing becomes an objective oriented activity than one where the spark of creativity is allowed to blossom and take shape.

The Writer’s Workshop run by Steve Evans, a very accomplished writer and academic, was a refreshing chance to come back to what I call the expressive roots of our discipline. We were asked to express our research through haiku, song and finally drama! This is not a post modern field exercise but a challenging way of distilling your research into the most important points and then giving it a new, freer and more creative voice.

In her plenary presentation, Prof. Jane Broadbent commented on the need to make our work more accessible. She spoke of the performance based research funding that sculpted the current UK system and gave priority to publishing work with impact. This word IMPACT is something that needs to be reconsidered in light of what she said. Does our work as academics really have impact? Does it reach the masses, or does it remain trapped in the passionate circles of a few? Perhaps if we go back to our roots, where writing is a passion, a means of expression and not just another item on the list of things to do for the day, we can begin to make our academic opinions the moots for discussion in more open public fora.

Thank you very much Steve for a very engaging and enjoyable session. I leave it feeling inspired to write more, and carefully consider who I am writing for and how to reach that audience.

Peter seems to be exploring a particularly rich seam of research with a number of publications in leading journals. He often uses an ANT or performative lenses which to me seems appropriate given the inherant messiness of organisational life. Often when I attend lectures or presentations on papers I hear the same criticism, 'ANT is not a theory', 'ANT by itself is insufficient to explain what has been observed'. Perhaps not, but surely no lenses is without its flaws? Isn't the role of a theory to help us contextualise what we are observing and provide space to develop our thoughts in explaining what we see?

Peter raised the concept of Callon's 'overflow' . It seems to me particularly useful to look at the unanticipated events that flow from the adoption of calculating inscriptions or adoption of risk technologies, since there are always serendipitous happenings which might be overlooked if we do not look for them. For example this afternoon, Christina Boedker is presenting on just such a serendipidous occasion. Firstly, she explains how interpretation of strategy at a local subsidiary of a global multi-national occured at the Australian subsidiary. Overflow is a good term to describe the unanticipated way things changed as a result. Secondly in spending many months at the site, she discovered something that she did not expect to find. She discovered the positive use of emotionality in the numbers. If she had been using a more proscriptive theory would she have uncovered emotionality, even love in the workplace? Or would she have dismissed it as outside her theoretical lenses or worse, not interesting, because few had written about it in an accounting context previously.

Actor Network Theory may have its critics but if it allows for surprise, if it challenges the black-boxed notions of much traditional thinking and explanation then surely it has a legitimate place in a researchers tool's of trade?

John Roberts asked us to consider the accountability in accounting.
Precious little accountability has been on display in the corporate world during the latest global financial crisis. John's comments are timely in raising issues of the challenges of being accountable and asked us to consider an ethos of humilty before we hold others to account for our perceptions of lack of accountability on their part.

It made me consider another aspect to accountability, that of our accountability as accounting researchers. While I acknowledge the argument that the long lead time for journal articles means it is too soon for papers on the global financial crisis, I wonder if that is just a convenient excuse? There are plenty of papers in development here. Surely the greatest financial crisis (so far) this century is deserving of a little attention on our part?

As researchers we are in a privileged position, one where taxpayer funded universities afford us the luxury of thinking for a living. Surely as part of our accountability to them, and to ourselves as a research body, we are obligated to explore recent events and seek to explain what happened and what role accounting, accounting bodies and accounting practitioners played in the crisis and how we may avoid a repetition in future?

To argue that we need lead time to perform good research is understandable, to avoid looking at the crisis because we might not like what we see, is not.

Prof. Markus Milne is as down to earth as you get. He is into hiking; long, arduous, mad adventures into the yawning wilderness of New Zealand. He likes his coffee; fair trade double shot with no sugar or milk (and without the plastic lid of course). He drives a nice but unassuming car, wears jandals, shorts and a t-shirt to work, and doesn’t care too much for the etiquette which ties most others down (just joking).

His intellect is about as big as his heart, and almost as big as the stick he beats his Masters and PhD students with when they are not up to scratch. I have learnt a lot from Markus. I have learnt how to read, how to conceptualise, how to talk and communicate, and be a good colleague to others. I am still learning how to do good research. One other thing that I want to learn from him is how to command as much attention as he does.

That lesson was given to me yesterday. I was in the museum at the University of Sydney. Wandering around priceless vases, statues and trinkets; careful not to spill any champagne on things I could definitely not afford to replace. And then suddenly, I spot him. We once called him the “Professor in Pyjamas,” but now, perhaps that needs to be changed to “Markus The Suave.” While the rest of us mingled, still sweaty in our blase dress after a long day of sessions, he strides into the room in a full suit (and a shiny yellow tie!!). I stop. And I stare. Flashing me a grin, he begins his dance. Would I be too bold to say that my supervisor is a social butterfly?

The answer is yes. Here he comes again with his big stick!!

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While I should be forgiven for adopting a famous movie title from the 60's I could not help but be reminded of it when attending the presentation and discussion of the paper by Professors Broadbent and Loughlin. It wasn't in regard to their paper or the ensuring discussion. It was that two people (partners in real as well as academic life) should so obviously love what they do and know each other so well that they finish each other's sentences. They have fun while doing research, they have fun while they work togther and they are passionate about what they do.
Loving what you do, being passionate about it and having someone to share that passion, sounds like a recipe for happiness to me?

Interventionist research is not, at this stage, a significant body of work within accounting, but why not? The discussant was clearly a bit uncomfortable with the concept, however it's worth taking a look. The author of the paper posed the question what do we use to design our research using such a theory? In suggesting that design of the experimental situation and ensuing observation should be done in concert with the host organisation, she follows the recommendations of Jonsson and Lukka (2007). Doesn't much research do this? Albeit more explicitly in come cases than others? It's hard to ignore a researcher in the room taking notes during an important meeting and didn't Latour say we are all social now??

Hello all in Sydney ... Ian Thomson tells me a few curious souls took the time to come and see the film on accounting for biodiversity which was my attempt at seeing how we might engage in low carbon intellectual renewal. I think I was having my breakfast as you were gathered together and I was VERY curious about what you thought of the film and also about the idea of low carbon intellectual renewal as well. This is the downside of not being there really hit home: feedback is not instantaneous.

So ... what did you think? Why do you think so few people took the chance to come along and engage with the idea/process? Could we have done anything to have more people linked to the process?

What happends now - well by the middle of the week we will have the film up on the University of St Andrews site ... along with teaching resource materials so that the film is useful for teaching purposes. I don't think I will win an Oscar but maybe it will be slow burn, cult of the film - ha ha ha.

Best to all - Jan

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So, as a new researcher and intrigued by the breadth of the topics covered in today's agenda I venture forward to make a few comments.

Barbara Cziamiawska both provoked and inspired with her presentation on 'plots'. She made a call for academics to be better at 'positioning' and 'condensing' their messages to the media, but shouldn't they meet us half-way and at least understand how and why academic research is different and cannot lead itself to media punch lines easily? Her musing's on stereotypes and myths as a way that media explains (historically) business events and business leaders could also be extended to ask how regulators and politicians, themselves often stereoptyped, come to view the private sector? One might also ask how can journalists ever openly challenge a business leader and (his) myth with the ever present threat of litigation and the tangled web of social networks linking directors in publicly listed companies these days - how independent are the media anyway?

Will the rest of the conference live up to the challenging nature of our first two presenters? We shall see!

Chris Chapman, while less esoteric, was equally provocative. Has management accounting research made a contribution in the C20th? His presentation on health care was challenging since it's something we all will become intimately involved with, either through the birth of our children as recently happened to me, or through the eventual demise of loved ones. To experience modern day health care is truly revelatory (and not in a good way!), that is not to denigrate the care and professiolism of health care professionals, but to get even a small exposure to the labrynthian maze of health care insurer, provider, clinician's, medicare, payment, counterpayment, rebate and subsidy is staggering. Chapman's work, while not purporting to have all the answers at least promises the abilty to better observe practice and at least begin to understand why we are in the state we are in.

The day began as it ended – with laughter, light hearted humour, and occasionally, good academic discussion!! The APIRA Doctoral Colloquium was a great success. Well attended by both emerging scholars and academics alike, it provided an intimate and engaging environment for knowledge to be shared, but more than that, for relationships to be built.

The program had a variety of different plenary sessions from senior academics, and even an interesting insight into the publication process from Emerald. The plenary sessions started with a role play between Prof Lee Parker and Prof Kerry Jacobs: “The Supervision Process - an act in many parts.” Lee played the belligerent mature PhD candidate, and Kerry the single minded and stubborn supervisor. Who knew senior professors could be so lively and entertaining– perhaps academics aren’t so bad after all.

A significant part of the day was dedicated to discussions between the emerging scholars and their academic mentors. The groups were small, intimate and relatively informal, consisting of two academics who knew (or more accurately put, pretended to know!) what they were doing, and four students who would present and ask questions about their own work. It was a vibrant forum for discussion, with all of the sessions I was involved in drawing thought-provoking suggestions to guide my Masters research forward. I came in thinking my research was like golden chalice carrying holy water. I leave thinking that I have a bucket made of plain stainless steel, hoping the water is clean let alone holy, and finding that there are some holes that I need to plug up. It is definitely not as bad as it sounds! I leave excited. I know that there is so much work to do, but I look forward to it, because now I am even more convinced that there is potential in what I do. There is meaning in all of this, and there is a clearer and yet more uncertain path to follow.

The plenary sessions were purposely kept informal and engaging. Discussion was the activity of the day. Some powerful words that I took away from the speakers was that critique in the academic world is mostly given with good intent. It is given so that you can improve your own work, understand more about the process of conducting research, and to challenge you intellectually (and not just to punish you emotionally!). This is something for us all to keep in mind.

Dinner capped of a busy, long but encouraging day. As I tucked in to my beautifully cooked fillet of fish, with red wine in hand, I realised just how much I had been tested. The process of explaining myself, talking to other passionate researchers, and creating ideas was the end goal itself. It was fitting that the night ended with a very sincere thank you given to all of the wonderful organisers of the day, Prof. Kerry Jacobs and Sharron O’Neil, and to all of the mentors that dedicated so much of their time for our benefit. Talking to some of the young scholars, we agree that we are indebted to you for your encouragement, guidance and support.

Sanjaya Kuruppu
Assistant Lecturer
University of Canterbury

This morning we started the conference with two plenary speakers. The film of these will be avaible soon.

All full papers for the conference are now availbe on the APIRA WWW site.
cheers

james

This morning we started the conference with two plenary speakers. The film of these will be avaible soon.

All full papers for the conference are now availbe on the APIRA WWW site.
cheers

james

Dear AAAJ friends

Welcome to Sydney and the APIRA conference is now ready to go. We have over 250 participants in the conference and emerging scholars day.

Also on Tuesday at lunch time, there will be a AAAJ editorial board meeting in Law104 starting just after 12.30.

Please pick up your executive lunch in the box and bring it to the room for eating.

Looking forward to seeing you in Sydney

Cheers

James and Lee

APIRA 2010 is only a week away. Here at APIRA headquarters we are working hard to meet all your conference needs. Keep watching the APIRA website

http://apira2010.econ.usyd.edu.au/

for everything you need to know about APIRA 2010

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