Decision-making processes in the context of ethical dilemmas: a study of accountants in training

Peter Hughes

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    Highly publicised entity-based controversies such as Enron and Northern Rock, raise questions about the ethical attitudes of accountants. This research is rooted in the notion that business schools are struggling with how to teach ethics, and in the wide expectation that in becoming accountants individuals adhere to strict codes of professional behaviour. How trainee accountants (TA) construct decision-making processes whilst seeking to maintain such a professional stance is the research focus. This focus constitutes a gap in the literature and is in contrast to mainstream research which mainly concerns the prominence of various factors influencing accountants‘ decision-making activities. This presentation is a general review of this research, which is in the second year of its three year programme. Two main developments since the NBS Doctoral Conference 2008 are the abandonment of a longitudinal time horizon and the adoption and adaptation of structuration theory (ST) via a social constructivist interpretation. The research purpose remains an examination of the decision-making processes of TAs when faced with business-related ethical dilemmas. ST would suggest that for a complete understanding of TAs‘ decision-making processes, two standpoints should be considered: 1) the social structures that impact on decision-making at any given time, and 2) the manner by which TAs develop and are constrained and enabled by those social structures in a dynamic, longitudinal manner. By focussing on the former, this research thereby adopts an adapted form of ST. Ethically charged dilemmas were presented to TAs in semi-structured interviews as a series of vignettes. Analysis is at an early stage, but an initial finding is that TAs adopt a principles-based approach to decision-making in contrast to the rules-based approach expected as a result of the mainstream, mainly positivistic, research.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 2009
    EventNewcastle Business School’s Annual Doctoral Conference - Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, UK
    Duration: 19 Jun 2009 → …


    ConferenceNewcastle Business School’s Annual Doctoral Conference
    Period19/06/09 → …


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