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In Chapter 2 of the textbook (pp.40-2), there is brief coverage of the ‘constitutive aspects of management accounting’. Most of you are by now familiar with the multiple techniques and tools of management accounting – e.g., costing techniques; techniques for planning and control such as traditional budgets and rolling forecasts; and strategic management techniques such as the balanced scorecard. These are the ‘tools of the trade’ for any accountant and, increasingly, for any manager who keeps a weather eye of the impact which their business role has on their organisation’s long-run financial health.

But it is important to also keep in mind that all MA tools are ultimately grounded in a rational-design ideology. That is, and put in its simplest form, it is assumed that MA comprises a set of techniques which, in some ‘neutral’ way, can produce information that informs optimal decision-making. Such means (MA tools)-end (successful decisions) reasoning is not questioned, is regarded as unpalternativeroblematic, and represents the sole rationale for management accounting. Following this, MA is taught, learned and practised very much as a technical discipline.

However, there is an ‘alternative’ perspective on management accounting, promoted in particular by academics across Europe and Australasia. While the alternative perspective does not necessarily dismiss the usefulness of MA tools and techniques for informing management decisions – something to help them make decisions in tough and changeable business situations – it questions the simplicity and narrow portrayal of the complex role(s) of MA in society.

An alternative view of management accounting highlights not just the practising of MA tools and techniques per se, but also the broader contexts within which MA is mobilised, plus the impact, antecedents and consequences of (not) adopting particular MA practices in particular time and space. Various (social, critical) theories are used by alternative MA researchers to assist them to highlight many interesting and powerful non-technical aspects to the roles of MA in society.

If you would like to learn more about ‘alternative MA research’, a good place to start is: J. Baxter & W. F. Chua (2003), ‘Alternative management accounting research – whence and whither’, Accounting, Organizations and Society, 28, 97-126.