Audit Committees: Practices, Practitioners and Praxis of Governance

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 28(4): 466-493

30 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2015 Last revised: 18 May 2015

See all articles by Niamh M. Brennan

Niamh M. Brennan

University College Dublin

Collette Kirwan

University College Dublin

Date Written: May 15, 2015


Purpose – This paper reviews and critiques prior research on audit committees using a practice-theory lens. Research on audit committees has followed the same trajectory as early research on boards of directors, which has been criticised for its singular theoretical perspectives and methodologies that do not capture the complexity of real-world experiences/behaviours.

Design/methodology/approach – We devise an analytical framework based on practice theory to conduct our review. We examine what audit committees should do (i.e., best practice) versus what audit committees actually do (i.e., actual activities in practice – praxis). Attributes of audit committee members, and the relationship dynamics relevant to their role execution (i.e., practitioners), are considered.

Findings – Research on boards has found that over-emphasis on agency theory’s monitoring role negatively impacts board effectiveness. We invoke other theories in examining what audit committees do in practice. We characterise the role of audit committees as oversight and not monitoring. We question whether, similar to auditing, audit committees are blamist tools or are genuinely orientated towards supporting improvements in organisational management systems. We unpack the ritualistic ceremonial behaviours and symbolic endeavours versus substantive engagement by audit committees. Our analytical framework also considers the “guardianship circle” around audit committees in the form of the key practitioners and their relationships: audit committee members, auditors and senior managers.

Originality/value – Drawing on our analytical framework, we provide directions for further opportunities for research of audit committees.

Keywords: Corporate governance, Audit committees, Practice theory, Practices, Practitioners, Praxis, Guardianship circle

Suggested Citation

Brennan, Niamh M. and Kirwan, Collette, Audit Committees: Practices, Practitioners and Praxis of Governance (May 15, 2015). Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 28(4): 466-493, Available at SSRN:

Niamh M. Brennan (Contact Author)

University College Dublin ( email )

Collette Kirwan

University College Dublin ( email )

Lochlann Quinn School of Business
Belfield, Dublin 4 4

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