Academic journal article The Accounting Historians Journal

The Historical Context of Professional Ideology and Tension and Strain in the Accounting Profession

Academic journal article The Accounting Historians Journal

The Historical Context of Professional Ideology and Tension and Strain in the Accounting Profession

Article excerpt


Professional activity has been the subject of public scrutiny in recent years as many professions have been criticised for their failure to live up to society's expectations which require them to play an important part in the smooth functioning of modern society. For example, Schon

1983, p. 4


... not only have we witnessed well publicized scandals in which highly esteemed professionals have misused their autonomy--where doctors and lawyers for example have used their position illegitimately for private gain--but we also encounter visible failures of professional action.

The failures of professional action have resulted in a loss of society's confidence in many professions leading to a crisis situation. Symptoms of a crisis in the professions have been increasingly visible since the 1950s. Studies carried out on many professions have highlighted such symptoms. Eron

1955, pp. 559-661 found that medical students became more cynical about their profession as they progressed through professional education. Bloom

1963, pp. 81-83

and Harris

1964, pp. 95-107

indicated that many medical students entered the profession with the primary goal of making money and acquiring prestige rather than that of offering service. Millerson

1964, pp. 171-75

and Arthurs

1970, pp. 236-67

found a vast difference between the rates of ethical violations and the rates of prosecution in a wide variety of professions. More recently, the accounting profession has partly been blamed for the recent Savings and Loan Industry scandal in the United States because the auditors failed to report lax controls in lending operations, and to identify nonperforming loans

Briloff, 1990, pp. 10-21

. In the United Kingdom the collapse of such companies as Polly Peck, Coloroll and Sound Diffusion which had received a 'true and fair' audit report prior to the collapse has placed new pressures on the profession. This has led to public calls for external regulation of professional activity

Mitchell et al, 1991, pp. 1-32

, and appeals to the courts for recourse against professional incompetence which has caused a steady loss of professional autonomy.

A profession is like a community within a community

Goode, 1957, p. 195

. The inability of a profession to inculcate professional values and to discipline members for deviant behaviour indicates intra-community tension and strain (conflicts and resistance among members within a community) whereas the erosion of trust in a profession indicates intercommunity tension and strain

conflicts between the professional communities and the larger community in which they exist

. Intra-community tension and strain within the accounting profession has been explained in relation to the practising environment of accountants

Montagna, 1974

. Zeff

1988, p. 211 also states "As far as I have been able to determine no accounting body anywhere in the world has expelled a member for flouting an approved accounting standard". Neu

1991, pp. 295-313

and Allen

1991, pp. 51-67

argue that formal prosecution under professional ethical codes serves mainly for public visibility because of the low rate of prosecution and lenient treatment. There is also evidence in the accounting literature that suggests the existence of inter-community tension and strain. Parker

1987, pp. 122-401 in an analysis of ethical pronouncements by the accounting profession in Australia, found a significant number of pronouncements focused upon protecting the profession rather than society. Armstrong

1987, pp. 27-45

found that accountants scored lower on a test of moral maturity than means published in the psychology literature for others with comparable educational levels. The lack of confidence in the services provided by accountants is also an indication of inter-community tension and strain. …

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