Accounting: Sociology and Uncertainty Avoidance Essay

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Words: 6146
Pages: 25

ABACUS, Vol. 24, No. I , I988


Towards a Theory of Cultural Influence on the
Development of Accounting Systems
Research has shown that accounting follows different patterns in different parts of the world. There have been claims that national systems are determined by environmental factors. In this context, cultural factors have not been fully considered. This paper proposes four hypotheses on the relationship between identified cultural characteristics and the development of accounting systems, the regulation of the accounting profession and attitudes towards financial management and disclosure. The hypotheses are not operationalized, and empirical tests have not been carried out. They are proposed here as a first step in the development of a theory of cultural influence on the development of accounting systems.
Key words: Accounting policies; Culture; Financial reporting.

This paper explores the extent to which international differences in accounting, with specific reference to corporate financial reporting systems, may be explained and predicted by differences in cultural factors.
While prior research has shown that there are different patterns of accounting internationally and that the development of national systems tends to be a function of environmental factors, it is a matter of some controversy as to the identification of the patterns and influential factors involved (Mueller, 1967; Zeff, 1971; Radebaugh,
1975; Nair and Frank, 1980; Nobes, 1983). In this context the significance of culture does not appear to have been fully appreciated and thus the purpose of this paper is to propose a framework which links culture with the development of accounting systems internationally.
The first section of the paper reviews prior research on international classification and the influence of environmental factors. The second section addresses the significance of the cultural dimension and its application to accounting. The third section proposes a framework and develops hypotheses linking culture with the development of accounting attitudes and systems internationally, based on the crosscultural work of Hofstede (1980, 1983). In the fourth section some culture area classifications are proposed. They have been developed on a judgmental basis, in the context of combinations of accounting attitudes or ‘values’ which determine (a) the authority for and enforcement of accounting systems, and (b) the measurement and disclosure characteristics of accounting systems.
S. J. GRAY a Professor of Accounting, University of Glasgow, Scotland is 1


Comparative accounting research has provided an enhanced awareness of the influence of environmental factors on accounting development (e.g., Mueller, 1967; Zeff, 1971;
Radebaugh, 1975; Choi and Mueller, 1984; Nobes, 1984; Arpan and Radebaugh,
1985; Nobes and Parker, 1985). This research has contributed to a growing realization that fundamentally different accounting patterns exist as a result of environmental differences and that international classification differences may have significant implications for international harmonization and the promotion of economic integration. In this regard it has also been suggested that the identification of patterns may be useful in permitting a better understanding of the potential for change, given any change in environmental factors; and that policy-makers may be in a better position to predict problems that a country may be likely to face and identify solutions that may be feasible, given the experience of countries with similar development patterns (e.g., Nobes, 1984).
Research efforts in this area have tended to approach the international classification of accounting systems from two major directions. First, there is the deductive approach whereby relevant environmental factors are identified and, by