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Accounting narratives and the narrative turn in accounting research: issues, theory, methodology, methods and a research framework

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date06/2014
JournalBritish Accounting Review
Journal number2
Volume46
Number of pages24
Pages111-134
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This plenary address paper traces the development of accounting narratives in external reporting practice and research, focussing on corporate-sourced financial communications to shareholders and analysts. It is written from the personal perspective of a researcher who began in the positivist tradition of disclosure research and is increasingly engaging with the more interpretive/critical tradition of socially-constructed narratives. Whereas early accounting narratives research existed at the margins, modern content-analytic work on disclosures rose to a position of prominence, alongside the rise of non-financial information in the practice domain. In recent years, large-scale linguistic studies have entered the mainstream positivist North American literature, supported by computerised natural language processing. Outside this community, accounting research has witnessed a ‘narrative turn’, similar to many other social science disciplines, marking a shift away from realism and positivism. This paper argues for the importance of both lines of research. Participants’ actions in relation to accounting narratives may be understood in terms of, inter alia, both economic explanations based on utility maximisation and behavioural explanations based on psychology and the embeddedness of narrative in social practice. In terms of methodology and methods, the weakening of the deep-surface divide is exemplified by the common combination of corpus linguistics approaches with (critical) discourse analysis in other disciplines. Based on a discussion of key issues, theory, methodology and methods, a framework for thinking about research in accounting narratives is offered. The challenge is to better understand the role of narratives in the increasingly rich, complex information environment of external reporting.