Is Institutional Research on Management Accounting Degenerating or Progressing? A Lakatosian Analysis

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Adopting a Lakatosian perspective, this paper asks whether management accounting (MA) research using institutional theory can be described as a degenerative or progressive research program. Motivated by similar critical debates about the larger institutional research program in organization studies, I map the evolution of institutional research on MA with an eye to its theoretical contributions to the accounting literature as well as this larger research program. I conclude that this body of research has offered important, progressive extensions to the accounting literature and, to a lesser extent, the larger institutional research program. However, there is also evidence of many MA scholars using institutional theory in ways that produce degenerative tendencies. These degenerative tendencies are, in large part, due to the persistent proclivity of researchers to place overly one-sided emphasis on either the role of human agency or pre-existing institutions in explaining the process of (de-)institutionalization and may, at worst, cause functionalist assumptions to be smuggled back into institutional analyses in ways that threaten the hard core of the institutional research program. I discuss how these tendencies can be rectified in future research and how institutional research on MA can be further developed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2560-2595
Number of pages36
JournalContemporary Accounting Research
Issue number4
Early online date22 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2022


  • Lakatos
  • institutional theory
  • management accounting
  • research programs
  • theory development


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