The theoretical perspectives in accounting research have evolved tremendously over the last two centuries. The different approaches that have arisen in the field of accounting research are the positivist (mainstream), the interpretative and the critical approaches.
6.2.1. Positivist Approach
Positivism has been dominating accounting research for last two centuries. In criticising its dominance, Gaffikin, (2006) scoffs at the notion that research on society in general and the human element in society can be conducted using scientific methodology
From the ontological position, positivists advocate “an objective reality that is causally determined and knowable to observers” (Susela et al., 2004). From the epistemological position, however, they approach a study inductively i.e., by viewing separately “theory and observation” with the latter’s role being to test the former with the ultimate goal of confirming or verifying it.
Chua (1986) explains further that current accounting research is governed by a set of assumptions founded on a deductive paradigm which, although is not without its
123 advantages but has placed a restrictive handcuff on the areas of research and the use of different methods of research thus hindering the progress of accounting research
Susela et.al (2004) explains that positivism is characterised by a search for universal laws from which hypotheses may be deduced. This is followed by a discussion of data and ends with an assessment of whether the data supports the hypotheses through the employment of rigorous samples, surveys and statistical methods. This is evident in the cases of behavioural or multi-probability studies of investor reactions to financial information, the efficient market hypothesis and agency theory.
Therefore, when undertaking a philosophical appreciation of accounting and accountability as in this study, the irrelevance of a positivist approach is evident as it involves a comprehension of the trials and tribulations of the sibling caregivers which cannot be measured in statistical terms.
Another approach is the interpretive methodology which is discussed in the next section.
6.2.2. Interpretative Approach
The fundamental belief of those researching from an interpretative perspective is that people are purposeful and basically orderly. Actions are endowed with subjective meaning; through communication, the intent of a person’s action can be subjectively discovered or, more likely, made sense of. Continuous social interaction allows us to interpret activities and give them meaning, and even allow for the construction of shared norms (Susela et al., 2004).
124 Again, the relevance of this approach is questionable here, as this study does not involve an interpretation of a practice or culture but instead is an attempt at conceptualising to explain what motivates siblings to become caregivers and how the state inculcates accountability in society
That leads us to the third approach, the critical perspective methodology
6.2.3. Critical Perspective Approach
Essentially, critical theory commenced with the work of social theorists and philosophers from the Frankfurt School in Germany. It was passed on to Habermas (one of their students) and then handed down as legacy until today (Gaffikin, 2006).
The theory rejects positivism because of its “lack of self-reflection which . . . reduce(s) epistemology to a crudely mechanical methodology” says Gaffikin, (2006). The generation of knowledge necessitates the recognition of human agency, i.e., that one must know the source of the knowledge or else he will just be assimilating what is being propagated by the dominant and powerful members of the society (Gaffikin, 2006).
Several accounting studies have advocated the use of the critical perspective. A pioneer was Richard Laughlin who recognised the failure of the positivists to comprehend the system of accounting and in consequence its applicability to practice. His work involved resolving real life controversial accounting subjects, situations and scenarios by employing the critical theory. He was followed by Jane Broadbent, Jesse Dillard and
125 others further advocating the use of a critical orientation to seek answers for problems in accounting.
Laughlin (1999) enumerates the features of accounting from a critical perspective and highlighting that firstly, a contextual approach is adopted, secondly, recognition is given to the fact there are social, political and economic consequences in the practice of accounting, thirdly, it encompasses all views; i.e. individuals, organisations and society at large and lastly it permits the engagement of accounting with other disciplines, thus expanding its horizons and perceptions. This justifies the introduction of the critical element in accounting research.
Critical accounting has influenced research in many countries. In 2002 a special issue of the journal Critical Perspectives in Accounting was devoted to “Critical Accounting in Different National Contexts.” In this issue Broadbent asks why we need critical accounting. Her response argues that in a world pondering over the allocation of scarce resources “We need to ensure the use of accounting does not represent certain interests at the expense of others” (p.444). She continues, “Constructions and interpretations of accounting information must pay attention to the cultural imperatives of those it seeks to control as well as those who are using it as a tool of control” (p. 444). Thus, critical accounting seeks to unmask the often hidden interests of those who would seek an unjust allocation of a society’s scare resources so that all interests in society can benefit.
The spectacular corporate collapses and frauds seen early in this century – and before – clearly indicate that such maladjusted interests exist.
126 The critical approach does not provide an alternative method of research but is an alternative method of evaluating and validating research. By emphasizing social, contextual and humanitarian issues and deemphasising the scientific, it has laid the groundwork for the move to the postmodern and pluralistic views of the growth of knowledge
From this examination of the three approaches, it becomes obvious that the approach to be taken in this study is the interpretative perspective because this study is seeking to understand accountability motivation for sibling caregivers justified through a conceptualising of accountability and explained using the lens of Schumacher.
Having settled on the use of the theoretical perspective for the study, we now turn to the paradigm of research methodology to be adopted.