I am pleased to write this article to review the book entitled ‘The Routledge companion to qualitative accounting research methods’. While the use of qualitative research method and interpretive methodology in the accounting discipline continue to grow over the past several decades, there is still a lack of a comprehensive compilation of the main topics in this area. The book in question aims to fills this void by covering four broad themes: worldview and paradigms; methodologies and strategies; data collection methods and analysis and personal reflections. It is the comprehensiveness of this book that impresses me. The book not only incorporates the chapters that can be properly used for University teaching such as the ones by Campbell, and Mahama and Khalifa, but also contains trendy and innovative topics including Davison and Warren, Lukka and Modell, and Tucker and Hoque, that may provide new thoughts for researchers at the forefront of this area. In what follows, I will comment on a number of chapters that are more relevant to my own research, though the review like this will inevitably simplify this comprehensive book.
Among these chapters, Campbell brings together a series of papers that employ the content analysis research method to explore the phenomenon of corporate social and environmental reporting. This chapter provides a practical reference list particularly for researchers interested in analysing corporate sustainability information. Mahama and Khalifa offer a succinct summary of the difference between the use of interviews in the interpretive and positivistic paradigms. It highlights the fact that how to undertake interviews and analyse interview data is not only a matter of method but also methodology. They subsequently provide useful guidance on how to prepare, conduct and analyse interviews. This chapter is clearly articulated and could be a valuable reference for novices to the interview research method. In addition to these traditional qualitative research methods, the book has also collected a prevalent research method, namely ‘visual methodologies for accounting and accountability’. In the current context of ‘visual turn’, more and more organisations begin to present their performance and results using graphics. It also has become common for companies to report their social and environmental performance using videos. This chapter provides useful guidance for researchers who are interested in analysing these new and more visible forms of reporting.
In terms of methodology, Goddard reviews the emergence and development of the Grounded Theory (GT). The most helpful point of this article to me is that it clarifies the split between Glaser and Strauss in the use of GT. Perhaps it is their divergence that makes the following researchers reluctant to use the term GT. Another methodological chapter that I am interested in is Lukka and Modell, which summarises the prevalent streams of interpretive accounting research. They particularly talk of the tendency of equating interpretive accounting research with ‘empirical fieldwork and the meticulous analysis of the collected materials’ (ibid, p.40). While Lukka and Modell categorise this stream as a variant of interpretive accounting research, I express reservation as to whether a study with little explicit theoretical and interpretive elements is consistent with the interpretive paradigm that emphasises interpretations. I am also uncertain as to how an academic study can be formed without any researchers’ preunderstandings and theoretical inspirations (Suddaby, 2006). There is no doubt that interpretive accounting research is significantly characterised by the richness of field materials. This, however, does not necessarily mean that data can be collected by a researcher with a blank mind.
I am also impressed by the chapter by Haynes, who calls for greater reflexivity in qualitative accounting research. This call strongly resonates with a chapter of my PhD thesis completed at the University of Bristol. Within the chapter, I draw on the reflective framework proposed by Alvesson et al. (2008) to analyse how limitations are addressed in qualitative papers published in elite accounting journals. I tentatively find that self-reported limitations of the papers analysed either only centre around the generalisability of research findings or remain silent about their limitations. Many important aspects of qualitative research including researcher’s idiosyncrasy, alternative theoretical perspectives and alternative voices in the field are not reflected upon. On this basis, I echo the view that qualitative accounting research needs more reflections.
In sum, while the book is phrased by the editors as a collection of ‘qualitative accounting research methods’, its contents are much broader and touch upon the interface between qualitative and quantitative research and between interpretivism and positivism. I believe that this book could work as a valuable reference for researchers in various stages.