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Accounting theories and practice has been develops and evolves over the years as a result from the changing in business interaction carried by dynamic human civilization. As an early history of accounting discipline which being said was born from the practice, accounting is seems significantly influenced by the people who created and practices the accounting. However, many accountants and accounting scholars believe that accounting is a technical value free subject as accounting has been used as tools to communicate the economic transactions into useful information in helping people in organization to make a decision. Therefore, accounting is treated as separate technical subject from the people who involves in practicing it and then, theories are being developed by observing these interactions to interpret the accounting and the people's behavior towards accounting. This underlying assumption has being carried by the positivist view in defining what is accounting all about. Hence, the positivist view about accounting as value free knowledge has been reflected in their accounting theories where they believe in understanding about accounting can be achieved through scientific methodology (Watt & Zimmerman, 1990). On the other hand, Sterling (1979) specifically argued that accounting is a science similar like a physical science as it employs the relevance and empirical testability research criteria and thus can be classified in natural science discipline.
From the long years ago, the major research in accounting has been dominant by the positivist scholars who believe in accounting as a scientific knowledge. Watt and Zimmerman (1990) contribute significantly on the development of positive accounting theory and later many studies are referring to the positive accounting theory in conducting research in interpreting the accounting practices. However, there are others school of thoughts that conceptualizing the accounting in different approaches which contradict to the positivist paradigm. The development of alternative accounting theories as mentioned in Gaffikin (2006) as critique towards positive accounting theories has promote different view of accounting where accounting is not a scientific subject like a physical science, rather it classify into a social science knowledge because accounting is concerned with the human behavior and social interaction.
IS ACCOUNTING IS A PHYSICAL SCIENCE OR A SOCIAL SCIENCE?
Therefore, from my point of view, the answer for the question whether accounting is a physical science or a social science is I believe that accounting is a social science rather than natural science and accounting cannot be regarded as a technical value free knowledge like a physical science. This is due to the fact that, accounting were created by human being and practice by the accountants that involve with subjective matters in making judgments and interpretations. Though Sterling (1979) argued that accounting maintain the objectivity criteria and thus holds the scientific nature, but accounting can be influenced by many other subjective factors include social belief system, cultural, individual mind and judgment. Therefore, accounting is not solely a technical tools used by the accountants to measure the economic transaction without influenced by the human interaction. By contrast, the belief about accounting as scientific knowledge holds by the positivist view has ignored the fact that environmental factors has given influenced to the accounting practice.
Accounting is a discipline that closely related to the accountants as human being who practices the accounting. Though there are accountings standards that provide the rules and guidelines for the accountants in performing their tasks, these accounting standards also subjected to the interpretation and used by the accountants depend on their capacity in making the judgments and interpretations on such rules. Therefore, accounting cannot be measured independently from those who practicing it unlike physical science where physicians view the knowledge on physic as natural value free knowledge which stand independently from human creation. The positivist view employs the similar criteria in natural sciences where accounting and accountants' behaviors can be measured and predicted empirically through using the accounting numbers and the market information. However, accountants' behaviors associates with the natural character of human being which are unique and not universal, thus their behaviors and tendency in making judgment are very subjective. The the limitation of the positivist view to capture the uniqueness of accountants as human being and the subjectivity matters in accountants' judgments reveals that accounting is not a science like physical science. The alternative views of accounting thought which giving more consideration on subjectivity of human being is more appropriate in conceptualizing the accounting. This stand carried by interpretive approach where accounting is classified under social science discipline (Chua, 1986). Therefore, I agreed with the point that accounting is not a natural science and cannot be treated like a physical science as accounting rely heavily on the human judgment and cannot be treated as a "thing" that can be measured and observed separately from people who practiced accounting.
In addition, accounting is not only influenced by the accountants as individual who practicing the accounting, but many studies has proved that accounting also being influenced by the environmental factors as a result from social interaction within the society. There are growing a number of accounting research that relates the culture influences towards the accounting development. For example, Gray (1988) has initiated the development of theory of cultural influence on the development of accounting system. Finding from his studies has contributed greatly in understanding how the cultural factors may influence the accounting system development followed by many other researches that proved the cultural influence in accounting such as Baydoun & Willet (1995), Fechne & Kilgore (1994) and Tsakumis (2007). Therefore, accounting also develops and evolves as a result from cultural influence and thus proved to be dynamic in nature. On the other hand, natural science like physics is static in nature where natural science treated the physics knowledge as static object without being influenced by social factors. This fact shows that accounting fit better as a social science rather than physical science. This argument also supported by Lowe and Thinker (1989) as cited by Gaffikin (2006) where they denote that "accounting should be regarded as integral parts of social science". Thus, my point of view agreed with the views which belief in accounting as a social science discipline which subjected to the influenced given by the environmental and cultural factors.
Other than that, accounting cannot be regarded as science like a physical science due to the reason that accounting is not a functioned to provide absolute information as presented by the accounting numbers in financial statement. Accounting numbers in the financial statement is not an absolute number because accounting process involves subjective matter in interpreting the economic transaction. Thus, though accounting maintains the objectivity measures in recording and reporting the economic transaction, it does not provide an accurate numbers where all accountants can agree with the same interpretation. Therefore, accounting is not like a natural science like physics where the numbers and measures are can be validated by other researchers as "accurate" (Stamp, 1981). For example, accountants and the user of the financial statement are usually concern on the concept "true and fair" view in the financial reporting. However, the concept of true and fair views only giving certain level of assurance in which financial information are reported as "true and fair" view. Accountants cannot prepare a financial report based on absolute true of economic reality because accounting process involves many assumptions, estimations and consist of inherent risks. Therefore, accounting numbers cannot be regarded as absolute truth. It shows that accounting is not like a natural science where the scientist always looking for the absolute truth in their research. Accounting not just a matter of technical subject but accounting is a result from the process of human interaction which closely related to the human judgment and interpretation. Thus, accounting can be regarded as a social science discipline as quoted from Burchell et al. (1985: 381) which stated that accounting is "coming to be seen as a social rather than a purely technical phenomenon".
In conclusion, I believe that accounting is a social science discipline as proved by arguments on its subjectivity approach in accounting process given by the unique accountants as human being in making judgments and interpretations. Other than that, accounting also integrated closely with the cultural values in society and thus denotes it as social science discipline rather than treated as technical value free knowledge like in scientific discipline.
IS THE BELIEF ABOUT ACCOUNTING REALLY MATTER TO ACCOUNTANTS AND ACCOUNTING SCHOLARS? HOW AND WHY?
Many different research approaches have been employed by the previous researchers in understanding the accounting. Previously, the mainstream accounting thought given by the positive accounting theory has being the most influential towards the development of accounting theories for the last four decades ago (Khabir, 2010). As critique on the positivist view on accounting as denotes by Deegan (2007: 99) where positive accounting theories are "does not provide prescription and therefore does not provide a means of improving accounting practice", the belief about accounting as social science is likely giving more meaning in interpreting accounting and thus can improve the accounting practices through understanding accounting as social phenomenon not as a mere technical subject. As consequences, through the evolving of the accounting theories and critique towards the limitation on the positivist view, the interpretive and sociology school of thoughts provide different angles in viewing the accounting discipline as social sciences. Therefore, interpretive and sociology research approach employs the methodologies to find the reasons behind the accounting practices and thus lays a space to determine the driven factor in improving the accountants' practices.
As accounting theories develop and evolve in many different forms, the belief about accounting become vital to the accountants and accounting scholars. The belief about accounting as technical value free knowledge among accountants and accounting scholars has brought to the employment of natural sciences methodologies in studying the accounting. The belief in accounting by the positivist has resulted in treated the accounting as a technical object that naturally react without social influenced. As a result, positivist views tend to look at the causal relationship between the accounting practice and accountants' behavior without taking into consideration on the reasons behind their actions. For example, under cost contracting theory in positive accounting theory, the accountants and management are predicted to react on the certain behavior tendency towards accounting choices given by the market reaction. This theory provides the prediction and interpretation on the accounting practice based on the "physical" reaction of accountants and management in making decision rather than concern on the underlying reasons which may explain their actions. Thus, through the treatment of accounting as a technical value free subject, it neglected the other influencing factors include the culture view, moral belief, personal minded and judgment which may explains why the accountants react towards certain action. On the other hand, social science views about accounting as social phenomenon and try to find the truth behind the accounting practices by giving reasoning to the accountants' actions and thus the findings can lead the them and practitioner to understand the accounting practices.
Moreover, the belief about accounting is important to the accountants and accounting scholars as it will concern on the view how accounting practices can be developed and improved over the times. If they view the accounting as technical tools without considering the human influenced toward its practices and development, it will contribute to the failure in finding the best solution that can improve overall accounting practice. For example, in the urged of the standardization of global accounting standards around the world, most of the accountants and accounting scholars belief that accounting practices can be standardized using the same standards across countries which they belief can improve the comparability of the financial statements (Deloitte, 2008). However, they failed to realize that accounting is not a technical value free knowledge which cannot be treated differently from those who practicing it. Thus, the called for standardization of accounting standards seems impossible to achieve given by the cultural differences factor that giving consequence on the accounting which being practices differently as resulted from the cultural gap.
As accounting practices develops and evolves over the years, accounting theory moving forward accordingly in order to improve the practices. The belief about accounting as a social science discipline which was created and influenced by the human being may contribute in understanding the limitation and weaknesses given by the imperfections of human being creation. Thus, it lays a space for further research in different angles in order to find the solutions for the current practical issues. If the accountants and accounting scholars stuck in the belief of accounting as natural science, they will not able to see the shortcoming of the current practices as the result from subjectivity matters in accountants' judgment and different thinking process carried by the accountants. Let consider on the fair value accounting which has been introduced to replace the historical cost principles in measuring the financial instruments. The standards setter, Financial Accounting Standard Board (FASB) introduced the fair value measurement in the International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) to ensure the relevancy of the financial information disclosed which claimed can offered more useful information to the users of the financial statements (Kim & Khurana, 2003). However, a studied done by Kim and Khurana (2003) to find the evidence on the relative value on the usefulness of fair value reporting compared to the historical cost showed insignificants result between these two reporting measurements. Thus, it shows that, the 'usefulness' of the information derived from the accounting treatment cannot being measured and proved empirically as the accounting treatment and decision making related to the human judgment which involve with subjectivity matters. Therefore, the belief about accounting does really matters to the accountants and accounting scholars in order to help them in addressing the accounting issues with more wisely approach by integrating the social phenomenon rather than treating it as technical value free knowledge.
The belief about accounting is also crucial for the accounting scholars in order for them to choose the appropriate methodologies in study the accounting knowledge. As the accounting is treated as type of social science study, accounting scholars will aware about the potential social reaction and cultural interaction in examining the accounting practices. They will also take into consideration towards the meaning behind the each actions perform by the accountants and the management in organization as suggested by Chua (1986). Therefore, the belief about accounting as social science knowledge will lead the researchers to address the problematic issues in regard to the human natures surrounding the accounting. On the other hand, natural sciences approach will observe the accounting as independent subject from the accountants' behaviors while in fact human behaviors also influenced the accounting and related to other subjective factors. Thus, natural science approach actually tries to measure something that unquantifiable like human behaviors because human being can react differently in different situation due to the many subjective reasons such as personal belief and cultural view. The limitation of natural science in belief about accounting as technical value free will characterized the accounting as only about technical tool used by the human being to communicate business transactions. Therefore, natural science approach unable to capture the images of accounting as a result from political intervention plays by the human in the organization. As suggested by Hines (1989), positivist views in accounting research will not see the accounting itself as resulted from sociopolitical attempt. Consequently, by looking from sociopolitical paradigm, accounting cannot be measured separately as technical subject and thus, they suggest different research method to study the accounting. Instead of accounting be measured empirically by the natural science method, accounting is more appropriate to be measured based on qualitative method (Chua, 1986).
As the conclusion, accounting is a social science discipline as it denotes a dynamic function in societal system and evolves accordingly throughout the times. As argued in previous paragraphs, I believe that accounting can be regarded as social science rather than science like physical science as accounting involve with subjective matters, accountants' judgment and assumption as well influenced directly by the other environmental factors like cultural influences. Though positivist view treated the accounting as technical value free knowledge and can be quantifiable through empirical testing, the dynamic society and subjectivity in human nature proved being directly giving impact towards the accounting. Thus, it challenged the generalizable empirical result from positivist findings because accountants are unique and not universal.
On the other hand, the belief about accounting does matter to the accountants and accounting scholars as it will lead them to see the images of accounting, whether to see accounting as technical value free subject like in scientific approach or social science approach. Thus, if the accounting seeing as technical value free knowledge, accountants and accounting scholars unable to see how the social and human interaction giving impact to the accounting. In contrast, social science approach sees the accounting as part of social phenomenon and thus tries to provide reasoning behind the accounting practices and can improve it. Therefore, more researches need to be done to improve accounting practice because accounting was created by the human being with full of imperfections.