Thinking: What Can Accountants Gain from Applying the Principles of Pragmatic Constructivism?

By Norreklit, Hanne; Norreklit, Lennart et al. | Financial Management (UK), October 2013 | Go to article overview

Thinking: What Can Accountants Gain from Applying the Principles of Pragmatic Constructivism?


Norreklit, Hanne, Norreklit, Lennart, Mitchell, Falconer, Financial Management (UK)


Management accountants have long struggled to find a convincing conceptual framework that would help them to substantiate their profession's work in society, but pragmatic constructivism is one approach that could serve their purposes. Based in philosophy, this approach has four dimensions: values, facts, possibilities and communication.

* Values. All professionals should work according to established values that will give their profession credibility. These exist at three levels in management accounting. First are the values that characterise the profession in society--honesty and competence, for instance. Second are the values that characterise the organisation that employs them. These derive from its particular culture and management style. Third are the technical values that relate to the information produced by management accountants. These include factors such as accuracy and completeness.

* Facts. Management accounting needs to be based in fact--otherwise, its values will lack credibility. The facts recognised by accountants establish the substance of the profession. There are three factual types. First, there are those with a physical presence--eg, products and markets. Second, there are facts that are constructed--eg, costs and profits. These need to become accepted in the profession and wider society, thereby becoming institutionalised. Third, there are future estimates--eg, asset residual values and budget forecasts. Their accuracy can be confirmed only after the event, so their authenticity depends on the accountant's record of forecasting success. The second and third categories of fact are constructs. So, while accountants can claim to deal in facts, it is untrue to say that all accounting information can be substantiated via a physical correspondence with reality.

* Possibilities. …

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