Question 2: What research paradigms guide research as it seeks to influence practice?

Management accounting researchers belong to different paradigms. A paradigm is a community of scholars who share similar sets of assumptions, concepts, beliefs, and methodologies regarding how science in their discipline should be conducted (Malmi 2010). These communities work together to assimilate knowledge about their shared interests. Management accounting researchers are trained and instructed on selecting one paradigm, but focusing exclusively on one paradigm can potentially pose obstacles tor the development ot both management accounting research and practice. In recent years, management accounting researchers have become concerned that doing so results in a narrow focus on research questions that are less interesting to both research and practitioner audiences (Malmi 2010; Merchant 2010).

The majority of published academic works on managerial accounting provide empirical results that are based on an economic or applied psychological perspective. These results suggest that management accounting researchers with an economics-based view tend to approach research as positivists (Lachmann, Trapp, and Trapp 2017). Positivist researchers believe that social order and consensus exist in the management accounting profession and more generally in society. Management accounting, from their perspective, serves management as it works to meet the demands of shareholders, consistent with shareholder theory. Lachmann, Trapp, and Trapp 2017 analyzed positivist management accounting research in the last four decades. They show that even positivist management accounting researchers’ focus has substantially become narrower, employing similar methods and using similar theoretical perspectives. This narrowness in positive management accounting is especially evident between 2010 and 2012 (Lachmann, Trapp, and Trapp 2017).

As expected, positivist management accounting researchers also tend to take on a corporate or organizational-level approach. Positivist behavioral management accounting researchers apply an economics-based perspective and a functionalist approach to evaluate how management control impacts and assists the organization in achieving organizational goals such as wealth maximization, efficiency, and effectiveness.

These analyses suggest that although overall management accounting research continues to converge toward a functionalist approach, functionalist researchers are further narrowing their interests and focus on similar topics, methods, and theories. This can be concerning because if this trajectory continues, management accounting research will eventually conform and lack a healthy diversity in theoretical and methodological perspectives. Without this diversity, management accounting research might not be able to holistically understand a variety of current relevant management accounting issues, particularly those issues that are decidedly ethical ones.

Although management accounting research is continuously converging toward a functionalist, positive, and organizational approach, there is still a current smaller subset of researchers who take an alternative approach. This group, also considered positivist, examine management control systems and costs from a psychological (individual level) or sociological (societal level) perspective. Further, behavioral management accounting researchers who identify and provide potential suggestions for change are considered non-positivists. These types of researchers focus on the negative impact of management controls and cost on the individual and society. Commonly known as alternative management accounting researchers, these scholars focus, for example, on conflict resolution and improving our current management accounting system to more directly consider the interests of non-shareholder stakeholders.

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