What counts as knowledge? Parameters of validity for the meaning and representation of a contingency theory in the organisation and management accounting literature.




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


The main problem posed in this thesis is an epistemological one to do with what counts as knowledge in the organisation/management and management accounting areas of scholarship. This question arose regarding discrepancies between an original text, Burns and Stalker’s The Management of Innovation (1961, 1966, 1994), and longstanding representations in the mainstream literature. The discrepancies were between the largely objectivist representations focussing on the relationship between organisation structure and environmental contingency, while omitting subjectivist factors and organisational processes, also significant in Burns and Stalker’s analysis.
The analysis in this thesis is concerned with two main questions: the similarities and differences between The Management of Innovation and mainstream representations; and explanations for these, particularly for the differences. The analytical framework is critical realist theory underpinned by an Hegelian dialectical methodology, looking at phenomena from different perspectives with inconsistencies addressed by a more holistic analysis. This thesis is based on a non-linear, multi-angled approach, which examines each of the two questions from different perspectives through two dialectical circles.
A detailed analysis of Burns and Stalker’s work and mainstream representations enabled clarity regarding the different foci in the two sets of texts. The absenting of human factors and organisational processes in much mainstream scholarship was found to extend beyond representations of Burns and Stalker’s work to orthodox scholarship more widely, despite strong and persistent critiques from within the field. The dialectical opposition constructed between objectivist and subjectivist factors was investigated further and linked to attitudes regarding the commensurability of different approaches in the social sciences, particularly in the organisation/management and management accounting fields. It is suggested that this opposition is based on a particular view of science and scientific method. A broader interpretation however shows that science is also influenced by researchers’ subjectivities. This has led to an argument for the complementary, more holistic approaches already present in the field becoming more widespread in the interests of more sustainable and emancipatory knowledge.



representation, meaning, Burns and Stalker, contingency theories, objectivism, paradigms, interpretivism, dialectical methodology, academe, commensurability, definitions of scientific method, organisation, management, management accounting literature



Research Institute