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Impact of research assessment exercises on research approaches and foci of accounting disciplines in Australia

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 15:50 authored by O'Connell, BT, Paul De Lange, Stoner, G, Sangster, A

Purpose: The overall aim of this paper was to examine the impact of the Australian research assessment exercise on the research approaches (positivist/non-positivist) favoured by accounting disciplines in Australia. Our key research question examined how the outputs and foci of research in elite accounting disciplines changed over a 16-year period. Our analysis was informed by Bourdieu’s notions of academic elitism and symbolic violence.

Design/methodology/approach: We analysed all papers published in 20 major accounting journals across a 16-year period by Australian accounting disciplines that were highly rated in the research assessment exercise. We also compared our results from this group against two case study accounting disciplines that were not rated as “world class”.

Findings: Our key finding is that the introduction of a research assessment exercise in Australia has resulted in research outputs of elite accounting disciplines over this period being increasingly focused on positivist rather than non-positivist research. Our findings evidence a narrowing of accounting disciplines’ research agendas and foci across the period.

Research limitations/implications: Our findings highlight a considerable narrowing of the research agenda and paradigms in accounting disciplines that is not in the public interest. Our findings also have implications for the literature on academic elitism. The narrowing of the research agenda and greater foci on positivist research exhibited in our findings demonstrates the role of dominant elites in controlling the research agenda through a research assessment exercise.

Practical implications: A practical implication is that proper research, regardless of the approach used, must be appropriately recognised and accepted by Accounting Disciplines, not ostracised or discouraged. Research implications are the breadth of accounting research should be celebrated and concentration eschewed. Australian accounting discipline leaders should not fall for the illusion that the only good research is that which is published in a small number of North American positivist journals.

Originality/value: Our findings provide insights into Bourdieu’s work through demonstrating how dominant players have successfully exploited an external regulatory mechanism, a research assessment exercise, to strengthen their position within a field and exert control over the research agendas of accounting disciplines. Previous work by Bourdieu has not directly examined how actors utilise these outside forces as instruments for shaping their own field.


Publication title

Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal

Article number

Epub ahead of print


Epub ahead of print






Emerald Publishing Limited

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

© Emerald Publishing Limited

Repository Status

  • Restricted

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