Ethnography has emerged as a potentially valuable empirical means of understanding how and why accounting operates within organisations. However, its use in the accounting literature has not been without controversy. This paper addresses one of the key issues of dispute: the role of critical foundational theories in ethnographic accounting research. First, the paper draws from competing proposals for ethnography in the accounting literature in an attempt to shed further light on the use of critical theory within an ethnographic field study. It is argued that critical theory can be a valuable tool in developing further insights from ethnographic study, but that its timing within the stages of the empirical work is crucial to achieve a balance between understanding and explanation. Second, in highlighting the lessons learnt from the author's own ethnographic research, the paper discusses the (as yet untapped) potential for critical ethnography to inform directly the design and development of new accounting systems. It is proposed that using ethnography "actively" in this way could provide the methodological basis for the development of new forms of accounting, such as social accounting.
- Accounting research
- Social accounting