Book Reviews: Policing Accounting Knowledge: The Market for Excuses Affair

By Richardson, Alan J. | The Accounting Historians Journal, December 1995 | Go to article overview

Book Reviews: Policing Accounting Knowledge: The Market for Excuses Affair


Richardson, Alan J., The Accounting Historians Journal


Tony Tinker and Tony Puxty, Eds., Policing Accounting Knowledge: The Market for Excuses Affair (Princeton: Marcus Weiner Publishers, 1994, 282 pp., $39.95).

Reviewed by Alan J. Richardson Queen's University

A colleague of mine claims to work in the "oral tradition" preferring to interact with his audience and deal in real-time events rather than allow his ideas to grow stale on paper to be reinterpreted at a distance. Most academics, however, seek to publish their ideas to meet the expectations of their universities and for its own intrinsic rewards. It is also the case that published material forms the bullc of what practitioners and students study as accounting knowledge. Policing Accounting Knowledge, edited by Tinker and Puxty, provides a window into the processes by which ideas get into print and the ways in which those processes shape knowledge. This is a rare collection of manuscripts and correspondence which deserves a wide reading by both the producers and consumers of accounting knowledge.

The book reprints Watts' and Zimmerman's (1978) "The Demand for and Supply of Accounting Theories: The Market for Excuses" along with the reviewers' comments and correspondence between the editor of The Accounting Revieut (Stephen Zeff) and the authors. This is followed by three papers (and their associated reviews: and correspondence) critical of Watts' and Zimmerman's article which were submitted to, and ultimately rejected by, The Accounting Review. The first, by Boer and Moseley (1980), was never published. The second, by Laughlin, Puxty and Lowe (1980), appeared in the Journal of Accounting and Public Policy in 1983. The third, by Williams (1983), appeared in Accounting, Organizations and Society in 1989. The editors contribute an introductory chapter entitled "The Rise and Fall of Positive Theory" and a conclusion entitled "Policing Accounting: The Sociology of Knowledge as Praxis."

The editors' objective with this collection is to show how the editorial review process affects what is published and how the social identity of authors and reviewers affects this process. In short, that the review process is more affected by social forces than by philosophies of science. They conclude that the review process does not meet the basic conditions for scientific practice (using Popper as the exemplar of this method) and, further, that the institutional structures within which accounting knowledge is created precludes these conditions ever being met.

There is a tension in the editorial essays in that the editors see Watts' and Zimmerman's article as marking a change in methodology from normative to positive and inaugurating a deregulation movement within the accounting academy. Their critiques of the editorial process thus must simultaneously deal with changes in the political economy of the U.S. (a move to the right) associated with the election of Republican presidents and changes in the research agenda of accounting academics. As a theoretical position, I appreciate that the authors do not want to separate the nature of the review process from the substance of the material which is under review. Unfortunately, at times it is not clear whether the focus of this volume is on Watts' and Zimmerman's theorizing or the review process which brought this article to print. …

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