Exploring the "Theory is King" Thesis in Accounting Research: The Case of Actor-Network Theory

Kari Lukka, Sven Modell, Eija Vinnari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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, we 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 a naturalistic excursion 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: Our findings 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: 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136
Number of pages167
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Issue number9
Early online date4 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2022


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