The Telling Power of CCA-A New Zealand Oral History

Article excerpt

1996 Vangermeersch Award Winner

Abstract: This report presents results of research on the failure of the inflation accounting standard in New Zealand. Presentation of the results in three narratives highlights that any such research is a series of interlocking and overlapping events, and that narrative is a direct and efficient means of communicating both causal and transactional components which contributed towards the outcomes. Isolation of the three narratives was chosen to demonstrate that it is not useful to extol an explanatory or interpretative paradigm for accounting history if it is advocated at the expense of sequential accounts of events.

Acknowledgments: The initial encouragement and support for this project was from staff at the Victoria University School of Accounting and Commercial Law, especially Dr. Bhagwan Khanna and Professor Tony van Zijl. Professor Geoff Whittington's assistance was also valuable in further development of the research. Encouragement and advice from Haim Falk is also acknowledged. Thanks are also due to participants at the presentation of an early draft of this study to the European Accounting Association Conference in Venice in April 1994. Staff at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of New Zealand, in particular April Mackenzie, encouraged this research while I was employed in the Accounting and Professional Standards Department at the Institute. Support was provided by the Richard Vangermeersch Award, and the assistance of Barbara Merino, Donna Street, Richard Fleischman, and other members of the Academy of Accounting Historians is acknowledged. However, the chief debt, as with all oral history studies, is to the participants themselves, as they were prepared to offer personal and unique insights into events in their own lives and the impact of their efforts on the development of best accounting practices in New Zealand.

To undertake an oral history project in accounting is to be immersed in narratives of those to whom the microphone is directed. As researchers listen and then transcribe, they imbue resonances and drama, even trauma, from accounting events as experienced by their group of interviewees, to the point when debate on narrative and counternarrative [Funnell, 1998] seems unrelated to the day-to-day problems of recording, transcription, analysis, and writing up. However, acting on the proposal by Funnell [1998, p. 144] that "to comprehend the constitutive effect of the narrative is to open the prospect for liberation from our sanctioned and settled past," the following report of this oral history research project was isolated into three narratives. The separation illuminates the constitutive power of narrative in accounting history and, from such illumination, an advocacy of the utility and role of narrative.

One aspect of narrative analyses in literary studies is the identification of hegemonic forces which influence, shape, and order the meanings of events and the manner of remembrance. There are exemplary studies in other disciplines, such as the analysis by Landau of "Human Evolution as Narrative" [1984] in which was presented an analysis of narrative used in accounts of human evolution, utilizing established methods of analysis of folk stories. Just as explanations of human evolution inevitably utilize narrative and can be analyzed using literary methods, so also research histories can be analyzed as struggles for success, with both malevolent and benevolent powers driving events outside the control of individuals.

In this case of the debate about current cost accounting (CCA) and the introduction of "inflation accounting standards," the hegemonic process is one whereby the interests of other groups (account preparers and users) are coordinated with those of the dominant group. However, hegemony, as a social process, is continually resisted, limited, altered, and challenged [Brow, 1990, p. 1]. The failure of the CCA standard is one example of such resistance; ultimately, it delineated limitations on the standard-setters' power. …