Accounting practitioners in rural Australian communities: a phenomenological exploration of social capital, professional role and community expectation

Wadeson, Dale Andrew (2015) Accounting practitioners in rural Australian communities: a phenomenological exploration of social capital, professional role and community expectation. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

This qualitative study represents a critical and interpretative engagement with the practice of accounting and the phenomenon of social capital. Social capital is considered as an intangible asset that is developed through strong collaborative networks of association that encourage action between individuals and groups, action that is based on high levels of reciprocity and trust. The stratified networks of association that develop in rural and remote communities require strong leadership, and this leadership is usually expected to emerge from a community's resident professionals. The study, using phenomenological means, broadly considers the interaction between small or sole practice rural and remote accountants and their socio-economic environment through a critical idiographic analysis. It conveys the experiences, perceptions and conceptions of the research participants, gives a voice to their lived experience and seeks to reveal specific aspects of how these accountants in rural and remote areas of Australia perceive the importance of social capital in their engagement with the local community.

Key research findings see the rural and remote professional accounting practitioner as a significant catalyst for collaborative action and change within a rural community, as well as a nexus for leadership, knowledge and information exchange. Findings also bring to light the rural and remote accountant's ability to act as 'bridging agent' across a wide range of stratified associative groups working to foster a range of positive and adaptive collaborative action that achieves successful community based outcomes. This research also uncovers the perceived importance of the reciprocal relationship based on trust that exists between accountant, community and client, in particular the critical nature of the face-to-face relationship in rural society.

Rural communities are vital to Australia's long term strategic, economic and cultural sustainability, and small accounting practices, as part of a diminishing group of professionals operating in these locations, perform a crucial role in the ongoing sustainability of these rural communities. The motivation for this research is based on the need to more fully understand the complex and challenging environment of the rural and regional space in the Australian context, and in particular, the accounting professionals who operate within the complex interwoven fabric of rural society thus adding incalculable value to these communities through their interaction, engagement, connection and support.

Although relatively few, previous research studies into accountants in rural communities have focused on organisational and workplace issues, the exploration of reasons for an accountant's choice in operating across these areas, or exploratory studies considering the range of issues that affect the practice of accounting in regional Australia. Through an intensive, idiographic process of open co-present interviews, eight rural and remote accounting practitioners operating across the eastern states of Australia provided rich, insightful and contextual information regarding their lived experience of professional rural life and the capstone phenomenon of social capital. Utilising a pragmatic blend of phenomenological research methods, framed by the Woodhouse (2006) conceptual model of social capital in society, participants' discourse developed strong emergent themes of rural societal expectation, tension in the professional role, and supererogatory action through intuitive altruistic behaviour as defining factors in the lived experience of professional accounting practitioners in rural and remote areas of Australia. It is through this analytical phenomenological research process that the connection between the rural accountant's perception and understanding of social capital is established and its implications considered.

The research makes an original contribution to knowledge and understanding of the social aspects of accounting practice, particularly in the realm of social capital and the contribution it makes to the sustainability and growth of rural communities in Australia. Existing conceptions and norms of professional behaviour and standards fall short when considered against the tension that exists within an accountant's role in the unique rural cultural milieu. Further, the findings contribute to the current policy debate around sustainability in the agriculture sector, one of the government's five key pillars of the Australian economy. In this respect the research highlights a need to consider policy directions that recognise and support rural accountants as key professional stakeholders in rural and remote communities. The study also provides a basis for professional accounting bodies to consider how they can better support the unique needs of accountants operating in rural and remote communities.

Item ID: 42244
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: accountants; accounting practitioners; accounting; Australia; country; regional; remote; rural; social capital; social networks
Date Deposited: 13 Jan 2016 02:04
FoR Codes: 15 COMMERCE, MANAGEMENT, TOURISM AND SERVICES > 1501 Accounting, Auditing and Accountability > 150199 Accounting, Auditing and Accountability not elsewhere classified @ 34%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1604 Human Geography > 160404 Urban and Regional Studies (excl Planning) @ 33%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160804 Rural Sociology @ 33%
SEO Codes: 91 ECONOMIC FRAMEWORK > 9102 Microeconomics > 910209 Preference, Behaviour and Welfare @ 33%
94 LAW, POLITICS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES > 9405 Work and Institutional Development > 940502 Professions and Professionalisation @ 33%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970115 Expanding Knowledge in Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services @ 34%
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