Pfister, J. A. (2011) Capturing contextual meanings:the use of organizational culture as theoretical and methodological lens in accounting research. Working Paper. Social Science Research Network.
We live in increasingly interdependent, mobile and digitised economies where social, institutional and national boundaries diminish and individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds interact, often in globally integrated firms and extended enterprises. To capture the contextual meanings of these emerging cultural melees poses considerable theoretical, methodological and empirical challenges for accounting research. Drawing from recent developments in organization science and an analysis of the controversial accounting and organizational literatures on organizational culture, I therefore generate and suggest a step-by-step approach to use organizational culture as a broad theoretical and methodological lens. This cultural lens considers that collective meanings of observable accounting artefacts and practices are continuously emerging via inter-subjective negotiations and re-negotiations among organizational members. These negotiations are based on individuals’ meanings which, in turn, are shaped by individuals’ transfers of past negotiated collective meanings to present contexts, individuals’ personalities and meanings transferred from other cultural memberships such as family, education and profession as well as broader economic, social, institutional and national environments. Approaching organizational culture through what we observe in the field, but more importantly, what the observable means to organizational members, the paper calls for (a) an empathetic understanding of individuals’ meanings; (b) an emic coding of data combined with a subsequent revisit of etic categories; and (c) an interpretive aggregation of assessed individual meanings in order to decipher the integrated, differentiated and fragmented patterns of collective meanings. Stepping outside our own worldviews and predefined theoretical dimensions, the suggested approach facilitates an understanding of a small but significant part of organizational life. The resulting theoretical models and empirical insights are rooted closely in practice and promise explanatory value for further research, independently of whether we pursue an inductive or deductive methodology.
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