Back to the Origins of Positive Theories: A Contribution to an Analysis of Paradigm Changes in Accounting Research


Accounting in Europe

2009, vol. 6, n°1, pp.107-126

Départements : Comptabilité et Contrôle de Gestion

Mots clés : Research, Business education, Account books, Financial statements, Accountants, Management controls

In this article, we analyse factors that explain the success of the empirical methodology of ‘positive accounting theory’ (PA) in accounting research. In fewer than ten years, between 1960 and 1967–1968, PA became dominant in the main accounting journals, and normative theories disappeared from academic publishing. The reasons for this success are not clearly established. The propagators of PA (Ball and Brown, 1968; Watts and Zimmerman, 1986) advocate the fertility of their approach, while others (e.g. Mattessich, 1995; Mouck, 1988; Whittington, 1987; Williams, 1989) denounce their ostracism and systematic denigration of rival approaches. Both proponents and opponents of PA consider the emergence of positive theories as a radical severance; however, we suggest that the move from normative to positive theories occurred gradually. Even if they took advantage of the reform that took place in US business schools during the 1950s, the proponents of PA also benefited from a decoupling between the academic world and accounting practice initiated by their predecessors