During the last decade, the field of accounting has been significantly opened up, enriched and extended through an engagement with ideas drawn from varieties of post positivist social theory. In a range of journals and edited collections, approaches to financial accounting have been developed through novel conceptual analysis as well as through a smaller number of empirically-based historical and contemporary studies.
As we will argue later, there are continuities (e.g. tendencies towards scholasticism and an inclination to inflate the importance of accounting) as well as departures (e.g. heightened reflexivity and openness to other disciplines and traditions) between "old" and "new" kinds of financial accounting. Making too sharp a division can be unhelpful and is potentially deceptive. In particular, continuities can be detected when questions are asked about the depth and strength of financial accounting to return or restore the apparently factual into the domain of the moral, an issue to which we return in our concluding remarks (Hines 1988, 251).
Still, for the purposes of this review, it will be convenient to refer to financial accounting, and to emphasize its novelty rather than its conventionality. Although the embeddings of accounting practices in the social and organizational contexts of their development and application is readily acknowledged by practitioners who, when pressed, are obliged to make accounting contextually relevant, it is widely overlooked by many accounting academics and (other) ideologues of the accountancy "profession".
Financial Accounting directly, or implicitly, problematizes the way that a seductive, positivistic rhetoric of objectivity has been mobilized to shape and represent accounting practice and has thereby acted to empower its authority and force.
By refusing to recognize and respect its authority to demarcate a neutral, objective domain, financial accounting contrives to render visible and amplifies accounting's wider social and historical constitution and significance as a technology of social and organizational control. Accounting is seen as a technology that actively (and politically) constitutes the world rather than passively (and neutrally) regulates and/or reports it. According to Hines, a leading effect of financial accounting, then, is to highlight and question accounting's technocratic pretensions and applications through which it operates to translate the moral into the factual.
The debunking of the idea that accounting is understandable and significant only as a technical activity, rather than as a social and organizational practice, is what renders it visible and accessible to the world outside of accounting technicians. Research into accounting as a situated, political practice, begins with a relinquishing of the idea that it is plausibly studied independently of a study of the social and organizational contexts of its production and use. Associated with this shift is the understanding that accounting is implicated in the shaping of perceptions and behaviour and is not plausibly regarded as an impartial method of reporting events (Hines 1989, 52).
The study of accounting practices can take us to the heart of issues of management and organization by rendering visible to the analyst how people constitute an understanding of their organizational context, their role in it, and, ...