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How arbitrary are international accounting classifications?: lessons from centuries of classifying in many disciplines, and experiments with IFRS data

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>11/2013
<mark>Journal</mark>Accounting, Organizations and Society
Issue number8
Number of pages23
Pages (from-to)573-595
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The process of classification is central to the daily task of doctors and librarians; and it is the foundation of study and research in chemistry and biology. Double-entry bookkeeping and the preparation of financial statements are classification activities of accounting practice. Classifying national accounting systems has long been an aspect of accounting research. This paper seeks to extract lessons for accounting researchers from anthropology, biology, chemistry, cosmology and medicine. In particular, we examine how the classifiers themselves and the characteristics that they choose can affect classification. We observe that objectivity is neither possible nor desirable in classification. Despite the arbitrariness, some classifications can be more reasonable or more useful than others. For previous accounting classifications, we analyze the classifiers, the scope, the characteristics used, the data and the classification techniques. We report various problems. We then empirically investigate the sensitivity of classifications to such issues as the characteristics chosen, and the countries and sectors included. For this, we hand pick data on the practices of large listed companies from 12 jurisdictions relating to 14 accounting topics under International Financial Reporting Standards. We show how different researchers could produce different classifications, particularly depending on which accounting topics are used to represent the countries.