Exploring the “theory is king” thesis in accounting research : the case of actor-network theory
Lukka, Kari; Modell, Sven; Vinnari, Eija (2022)
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Purpose: This paper examines the influence of the normal science tradition, epitomized by the notion that “theory is king”, on contemporary accounting research and the epistemological tensions that may emerge as this idea is applied to particular ways of studying accounting. For illustrative purposes, the authors focus on research informed by actor-network theory (ANT) which can be seen as an “extreme case” in the sense that it is, in principle, difficult to reconcile with the normal science aspirations. Design/methodology/approach: The paper offers an analysis based on a close reading of how accounting scholars, using ANT, theorize, and if they do engage in explicit theorizing, how they deal with the tensions that might emerge from the need to reconcile its epistemological underpinnings with those of the normal science tradition. Findings: The findings of this paper show that the tensions between normal science thinking and the epistemological principles of ANT have, in a few cases, been avoided, as researchers stay relatively faithful to ANT and largely refrain from further theory development. However, in most cases, the tensions have ostensibly been ignored as researchers blend the epistemology of ANT and that of normal science without reflecting on the implications of doing so. Originality/value: The paper contributes to emerging debates on the role of the normal science tradition in contemporary accounting research, and also extends recent discussions on the role of theory in accounting research inspired by ANT. The paper proposes three reasons for the observed blending of epistemologies: unawareness of tensions, epistemological eclecticism and various political considerations.
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