The Social Structure of Communication in Major Accounting Research Journals

55 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2011 Last revised: 8 Oct 2012

See all articles by Sarah E. Bonner

Sarah E. Bonner

University of Southern California

James W. Hesford

University of Lethbridge - Faculty of Management

Wim A. Van der Stede

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

S. Mark Young

University of Southern California - Leventhal School of Accounting

Date Written: April 2011

Abstract

We examine the structure of communications in accounting research by analyzing patterns of citations among authors who have published in five major journals between 1984 and 2008. Understanding communication structures is important because they shape academic knowledge creation, which prominent scholars have claimed has become narrowly focused and self-perpetuating in accounting due to a specific type of communication structure - 'tribalism.' We use a mathematical algorithm and other analyses to distinguish among five types of communication structures. We find that the field contains multiple clusters, with some clusters being centered on research topics alone, a finding consistent with a 'normal academic field.' Remaining clusters are more narrowly based – on combinations of topics, methods and theory bases – and all but one of them represent a “small world” structure because they are close together and exhibit frequent communication. Both normal academic fields and small worlds have been shown to contribute positively to innovation in research. The economics-based archival financial accounting cluster exhibits some properties of a tribal structure because, while researchers in other clusters communicate toward this cluster, the cluster sends most of its outbound communication to itself. A contribution of our study is that it shows that tribalism is not as rampant as previously suggested. Also, our findings suggest the field has become less tribal over time. Further, we identify 'hub' researchers who attract communications from multiple clusters and whose articles build on, and cite, work from multiple clusters. These individuals are instrumental in moving fields away from tribalism. Finally, we discuss possible determinants and consequences of the existing communication structure.

Keywords: accounting research communication structure, citation analysis, tribalism, network analysis

JEL Classification: M40, M49

Suggested Citation

Bonner, Sarah E. and Hesford, James W. and Van der Stede, Wim A. and Young, S. Mark, The Social Structure of Communication in Major Accounting Research Journals (April 2011). Contemporary Accounting Research, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 869-909, Fall 2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1909926

Sarah E. Bonner (Contact Author)

University of Southern California ( email )

Marshall School of Business
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0441
United States
213-740-5025 (Phone)
213-747-2815 (Fax)

James W. Hesford

University of Lethbridge - Faculty of Management ( email )

4401 University Drive
Lethbridge, Alberta TIK 3M4
Canada

Wim A. Van der Stede

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom
+44 (0)20 7955 7420 (Fax)

S. Mark Young

University of Southern California - Leventhal School of Accounting ( email )

Los Angeles, CA 90089-0441
United States
213-740-4848 (Phone)
213-747-2815 (Fax)

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