Publication Details

This conference paper was originally published as Irvine, HJ, What the big picture misses: how new accounting practices were institutionalised in an Australian religious/charitable organisation, Proceedings of Third Asia Pacific Interdisciplinary Research in Accounting (APIRA) Conference, Adelaide, 15-17 July 2001.


Neo-institutional sociology proposes that organisations in a particular field behave in essentially the same way. In taking for granted the prevalence of institutionalised activities, such as accounting, however, it offers little in the way of penetrating insights into how, and to what extent, those activities are actually introduced and embedded into individual organisations. Recent changes in the nonprofit environment in Australia have catapulted nonprofit organisations into a new corporate mode of operation, providing a unique opportunity not only to observe the introduction of new accounting practices, but also to critique the usefulness of neo-institutionalism as a complete explanation of organisational behaviour. A brief study of one particular religious/charitable organisation highlights both the valuable "big picture" insights institutional theory offers and also its neglect of the "micro" view. A modified institutional lens provides the fine-tuning necessary for a more satisfying explanation of the likely impact of institutionally desirable practices on individual organisations.