Institutions, Situated Rationality and Agency in Management Accounting: A research note extending the Burns and Scapens Framework

Henk ter Bogt, Robert Scapens

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Drawing on recent research, which recognises the situated nature of accounting practices, the aim of this research note is to extend the Burns and Scapens (B&S) framework and to illustrate its potential for studying the situated nature of management accounting practices. The extended framework distinguishes field-level institutions (which we term broader institutions) and institutions within the organisation (which we term local institutions). To extend the B&S framework we draw on recent debates in institutional theory, both new institutional sociology (NIS), where the focus is now on the institutional logics perspective, and old institutional economics (OIE), where there has been debate about the relationship between institutions and actions. While the B&S framework focussed on institutions within the organisation, the extended framework explicitly recognises institutions which extend beyond the boundaries of the organisation. It also recognises the way in which rationality and deliberation are related to human agency, as well as the power of specific individuals and/or groups to impose new rules. To illustrate the usefulness of the extended framework the research note draws on a recent study of performance measurement in the Accounting and Finance Groups of the Universities of Groningen and Manchester. It is argued that local institutions within the organisation combine with the broader institutions to shape the forms of situated rationality which are applied by individuals and groups within the organisation. Different groups within an organisation (e.g., engineers and accountants) can have different forms of situated rationality, and contradictions in these forms of rationality can be a source of institutional change or resistance to change within the organisation, and can explain why accounting changes can by implemented in different ways in different organisations and also in different parts of the same organisation. The extended framework will be useful for studying: (1) how situated rationalities evolve within an organisation, more specifically how they are shaped by both local and broader institutions; and (2) how prevailing situated rationalities shape the responses to accounting change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1801-1825
Number of pages32
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2019


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