Analysing accounting discourse: avoiding the “fallacy of internalism”

John Ferguson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    53 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to elaborate on John B. Thompson's “tripartite approach” for the analysis of mass media communication, highlighting how this methodological framework can help address some of the shortcomings apparent in extant studies on accounting which purport to analyse accounting “texts”. Design/methodology/approach – By way of example, the paper develops a critique of an existing study in accounting that adopts a “textually-oriented” approach to discourse analysis by Gallhofer, Haslam and Roper. This study, which is informed by Fairclough's version of critical discourse analysis (CDA), undertakes an analysis of the letters of submission of two business lobby groups regarding proposed takeovers legislation in New Zealand. A two-stage strategy is developed: first, to review the extant literature which is critical of CDA, and second, to consider whether these criticisms apply to Gallhofer et al. Whilst acknowledging that Gallhofer et al.'s (2001) study is perhaps one of the more comprehensive in the accounting literature, the critique developed in the present paper nevertheless highlights a number of limitations. Based upon this critique, an alternative framework is proposed which allows for a more comprehensive analysis of accounting texts. Findings – The critique of Gallhofer et al.'s study highlights what is arguably an overemphasis on the internal characteristics of text: this is referred to by Thompson as the “fallacy of internalism”. In other words, Gallhofer et al. draw inferences regarding the production of the letters of submission from the texts themselves, and make implicit assumptions about the likely effects of these texts without undertaking any formal analysis of their production or reception, or without paying sufficient attention to the social and historical context of their production or reception. Originality/value – Drawing on Thompson's theory of mass communication and his explication of the hermeneutical conditions of social-historical enquiry, the paper outlines a range of theoretical considerations which are pertinent to researchers interested in studying accounting texts. Moreover, building on these theoretical considerations, the paper delineates a coherent and flexible methodological framework, which, it is hoped, may guide accounting researchers in this area.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)912-934
    Number of pages23
    JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2007


    • Accounting


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