The Role of Management Accounting

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Only in the last few decades has accounting become firmly established as an academic discipline, taught in universities and other educational establishments throughout the world. Accounting traditionally belongs within departments of commerce, or business studies, or within faculties of social science or social studies, along with such other ‘applied’ subjects as economics, politics, sociology and, sometimes, law. It is not traditionally taught along with medicine or geography or French or Latin or physics. The academic location of the subject as a social science may offer some clues as to the context, or environment, to which accounting belongs.

In all forms of society, individuals and groups make economic decisions which entail the exchange of property at agreed prices. In order to agree prices, it is necessary to have a unit of measurement or medium of exchange, which is common to all members to the society, and is thus widely understood. In modern societies, this medium of change is almost always defined in terms of money – money is used to assign prices or values to property.

Because of its widespread application, the use of a common unit of measurement forms a fundamental role in economic, legal, political and sociological analysis – i.e. because of the continuous need to value and measure objects, all social sciences require quantitative information. This is where accounting comes in. Accounting responds to the need for quantitative and, in particular, financial information. Under this view, accounting is essentially an interdisciplinary subject – is draws on and responds to the other social sciences. Consequently the scope and boundaries of accounting change as society change and new demands for information emerge. In much the same way, the scope of a social sciences broadens or contracts depending upon society’s need for the type of analysis they provide. For example, law, economics and sociology are not static disciplines. They respond to, and indeed help to shape, the needs of society.

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