Recovering a normative stance in accounting research by applying a legal doctrinal research methodology
The thesis identifies the research problem that accounting researchers are not sufficiently contributing to the intellectual foundation of the concepts, principles and rules of accounting developed in practice. The task is mainly left to practice to develop these core concepts, principles and rules, collectively referred to as the doctrines of accounting. In an attempt to resolve this research problem, the main research objective of the thesis is to determine whether doctrinal research can be used as a research approach in contemporary accounting research to recover a normative stance in accounting research and therefore bring accounting research closer to accounting practice. Doctrinal research is mainly applied in legal research to assess the doctrines developed in practice through practical structures. The thesis is based on the premise that the core doctrines of accounting are socially constructed and is fulfilled in an interpretative framework. This thesis is presented in an article format and the four research articles contribute together to assess the objective and answer the question whether doctrinal research could bring normative aspects back to accounting. The four research articles follow a process of "what" doctrinal research is (the theoretical foundation), to what the "perception" is regarding doctrinal research, to how" different research approaches are applied in doctrinal research, to finally "applying" a doctrinal research approach to a specific practical issue. To create a theoretical foundation, the first research article debates whether doctrinal research could be applied in contemporary accounting research to bring back the prescriptive nature of normative research and whether, by applying doctrinal research, a new focus could be created in accounting research. The article finds that the main difference between doctrinal research and traditional scientific and social research is that the focus of doctrinal research is not on the development of theories, but on the underlying doctrines on which practice and the practical system are based. A shift in accounting research from traditional research that creates theory to research that focuses on the underlying doctrines of the accounting discipline would create an insider perspective in accounting research, which should bring accounting research closer to accounting practice. The insider perspective will, however, bring back normative and prescriptive aspects to accounting research, which will not necessarily be similar to traditional normative research. The second research article reflects on the incorporation of doctrinal research in the curriculum of a master's degree programme in accounting at a South African university. In the master's degree programme doctrinal research is introduced as an alternative research approach to conventional research approaches to develop the students' skills to question the doctrines of accounting. The perspectives of the master's degree students are obtained through structured interviews from which different themes are identified by thematic analysis. The participant students agree that doctrinal research has an important role to play in accounting research. The students also agree that their critical engagement with the underlying doctrines of accounting has improved significantly and that deeper understanding of the concepts and principles of accounting has been created. They therefore believe that accounting scholars should also become more involved in doctrinal research to enhance their own critical engagement with doctrines, which should in turn improve their own teaching of the doctrines. The third research article goes more deeply into doctrinal research and considers whether different research approaches followed in doctrinal research could be applied in accounting policy-debate research. The article finds that the logical argumentation in doctrinal research uses hermeneutics as the foundation for the authoritative interpretation of practical documents. In applying aspects of hermeneutics, doctrinal research applies descriptive, interpretative, normative, critical and comparative research approaches, depending on the outcome of the research. Hermeneutics and the different research approaches applied in doctrinal research create a research framework to conduct accounting policy-debate research on accounting doctrines developed in practice and therefore more methodological rigor could be created for accounting policy-debate research and help bring accounting practice and research closer to each other. The last research article assesses whether the underlying concepts for the definition of a liability are sufficiently developed in the 2018 Conceptual Framework for Financial Reporting of the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) to create a conceptual foundation to identify, recognise, measure and derecognise liabilities on a standard-setting level. Theoretical doctrinal research is applied to evaluate the proposed concepts by using authoritative interpretation of hermeneutics. The article finds that the 2018 Conceptual Framework significantly improves the conceptual foundation of the identification, recognition, measurement and derecognition of liabilities. Clarifying the obligation and past event criteria of the definition of a liability paved the way for removing the reference to future outflow or sacrifices in the definition of a liability and the recognition criteria of probability and measurability. Existence uncertainty is, however, still problematic and could create uncertainty on a standards-setting level and in practice. In principle, meeting the definition of a liability appropriately triggers recognition. Measurement decisions regarding liabilities on a standard-setting level are also improved by explaining the nature and benefits of different measurement bases, including the new fulfilment value, and identifying the factors to make measurement decisions based on the qualitative characteristics of useful information. The reality is that doctrines are developed in accounting practice separately from accounting theory. The thesis therefore holds that accounting researchers should also become involved in evaluating these underlying doctrines. Doctrinal research must be seen as a separate research approach with a different objective, which could play an important role alongside traditional scientific and social research. Hopefully, this thesis would foster further debate regarding the incorporation of doctrinal research into the ambit of accounting research. Integrating all the discussion and conclusions reached in this thesis, the thesis finds that doctrinal research is definitely a viable research approach to bring normative aspects back to accounting research to question the doctrines (norms) developed in practice. Doctrinal research is based on intellectual reasoning and hermeneutics and the different research approaches create sufficient rigor for accounting policy-debate research.
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