Academic journal article Accounting Historians Journal

"Effective" Genealogical History: Possibilities for Critical Accounting History Research

Academic journal article Accounting Historians Journal

"Effective" Genealogical History: Possibilities for Critical Accounting History Research

Article excerpt

Abstract: This essay, following up on the recent Sy and Tinker [2005] and Tyson and Oldroyd [2007] debate, argues that accounting history research needs to present critiques of the present state of accounting's authoritative concepts and principles, theory, and present-day practices. It proposes that accounting history research could benefit by adopting a genealogical, "effective" history approach. It outlines four fundamental strengths of traditional history--investigate only the real with facts; the past is a permanent dimension of the present; history has much to say about the present; and the past, present, and future constitute a seamless continuum. It identifies Nietzsche's major concerns with traditional history, contrasts it with his genealogical approach, and reviews Foucault's [1977] follow up to Nietzsche's approach. Two examples of genealogical historiography are presented--Williams' [1994] exposition of the major shift in British discourse regarding slavery and Macintosh et al.'s [2000] genealogy of the accounting sign of income from feudal times to the present. The paper critiques some of the early Foucauldian-based accounting research, as well as some more recent studies from this perspective. It concludes that adopting a genealogical historical approach would enable accounting history research to become effective history by presenting critiques of accounting's present state.

INTRODUCTION

This essay contrasts two stereotypical genres of historical narratives--traditional and genealogical. Historians of the traditional kind are concerned to uncover the truth about the past. This assumes that they have the confidence in their capacity to find it and to recognize it when they see it. Genealogical historians, in contrast, reverse this stance. They do not want to know the truth about the past, but rather about the fictions of the present. They want to show how the "truth" is made, not discovered. In doing so, however, they do not want to show how the present is better than the past, thus revealing how western civilization has progressed with time. Instead, for genealogists, the present seems just as strange as the past. So instead of making the present familiar and seeming natural and inevitable, they look for and document this strangeness. They produce a genealogical history that de-naturalizes and exposes its strangeness.

This essay can be seen as a follow up to the recent Tyson and Oldroyd (T&O) debate with Sy and Tinker (S&T). S&T [2005, p. 49] contend that because of "accounting history's resolute adherence to empiricist, archival and otherwise antiquarian epistemes ... [it] has forfeited its opportunities to speak authoritatively from the past about problems that beset accounting in practice." They see this as "a missed opportunity of tragic proportions for accounting historical research because it has undermined its authority to address problems in accounting practice and theory today" (p. 52). Thus, S&T argue, much accounting history research has failed to present critiques of the present state of accounting's authoritative concepts, principles, theory, and present-day practices by retreating to the ideology of archivalist empiricism. Archivalists' claims to independence and objectivity, they maintain, are unsupportable and fallacious; the truth is made not found, and facts are notoriously frail. (1) Invoking post-Khunian theory, they see accounting historians as presenting conservative renditions which mask a latent, normative, political agenda. In contrast, "relevant history is history that speaks in a meaningful way to the quandaries of the present" (p. 63). They gesture towards Marx and Engel's theory of historical/ dialectic materialism for ontological and epistemological guidance and call on the accounting historian to "align herself with that judged to be morally and socially appropriate" (p. 49).

T&O [2007] respond to S&T's charge that accounting historians do not critique the present state of accounting due to their strict adherence to archivalist, objectivist epistemology. …

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