Selected Publications


On this page you will find information on some selected publications. More information with regard to our research interests can be found  here.


Stolowy, H., Messner, M., Jeanjean, T. and Baker, R. (2014). The construction of a trustworthy investment opportunity: Insights from the Madoff fraud. Contemporary Accounting Research, 31(2), 354–397. [Link]

Abstract: In this paper, we use the investment fraud of Bernard Madoff to inquire into the production of trust in the context of financial markets. Drawing upon empirical data related to U.S. individual investors (interviews and letters) as well as documentary material, we investigate the mechanisms through which investing with Madoff came to be seen as a trustworthy investment opportunity. We show how different types of information contributed to construct Bernard Madoff as a trustworthy investment manager and how Madoff avoided meeting demands for accountability by manipulating investors in face-to-face encounters. We shed particular light on the role of institution-based forms of trust which play a critical role in facilitating economic exchanges. More specifically, we suggest that the Madoff case illuminates how the provision of information can lead to an “illusion of trustworthiness” that is difficult to escape for investors. An element of such illusion, we suggest, is inherent to the functioning of financial markets more generally.


Goretzki, L. (2013). Management accounting and the construction of the legitimate manager. Journal of Management Control, 23(4), 319–344. [Link]

Abstract: The aim of this study is to investigate why managers use management accounting techniques. Therefore, a qualitative single case study was conducted in an innovative and product-driven firm in which management accounting is considered playing an important role for management and control. Taking a philosophical stance, the case study illustrates how managers use management accounting as a “technology of the self” by which means they reflect and act upon themselves in order to become legitimate actors within the firm. Accordingly, the study shows how management accounting can support managers’ activities of self-control and self-constitution in the context of an institutionalised “regime of truth”.


Goretzki, L., Strauss, E., & Weber, J. (2013). An institutional perspective on the changes in management accountants’ professional role. Management Accounting Research, 24(1), 41–63. [Link]

Abstract: The paper theorises how a new actor of a firm can drive the institutionalisation of a new role for management accountants. Drawing on institutional theory and using insights from a single case study in a German manufacturing firm, the paper analyses the institutionalisation of the so-called “business partner” role for management accountants, which was promoted and driven by the case firm's newcomer CFO. The paper focuses on the micro-processes and especially the institutional work carried out by the new CFO that supported the entrenchment of the “business partner’ role within the case firm. In this light, we illustrate that especially three interrelated kinds of institutional work were carried out within the case firm to support the institutionalisation of the management accountants’ new role: (1) legitimising the new “business partner” role, (2) (re-)constructing the management accountants’ role identities and (3) linking the intra-organisational level with an institutional environment in which external actors aim to achieve changes in the management accountants’ role on a broader societal level. In this context, the paper also provides insights into the specific German management accounting context. Overall, the findings suggest that the institutionalisation of a new role for management accountants can be understood as the product of purposive actions carried out by actors to support a specific institutional arrangement within the firm.


Habersam, M., Piber, M., & Skoog, M. (2013). Knowledge balance sheets in Austrian universities: The implementation, use, and re-shaping of measurement and management practices. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 24(4-5), 319–337. [Link]

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to contribute to the understanding of how a mandatory external (mostly) non-financial reporting process, labelled Knowledge Balance Sheets (KBS), is interpreted and used by different stakeholders in the Austrian university system. This study is based on a qualitative case study approach where a number of semi-structured interviews have been conducted in various Austrian universities at different management levels over a period of approximately one year. In addition, interviews have been held with other stakeholders of universities (e.g., representatives from the ministry) and with members of the working group dealing with the KBS at the supra-university level. The findings indicate that as a reporting-tool, the KBS is embedded in a broader framework of governance and accountability regarding public universities, and interlinks the following different reporting-formats: (1) the KBS itself, (2) the performance report, and (3) the financial statement of accounts. Rectors, deans, and management accountants have highlighted different parts of the framework as important and problematic. However, it is obvious that governing via externally oriented reports and rules of accountability also has relevance to internal management decision and control agendas.


Capkun, V., Messner, M., & Rissbacher, C. (2012). Service specialization and operational performance in hospitals. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 32(4), 468–495. [Link]

Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to examine the link between service specialization and operational performance in hospitals. Ordinary least squares (OLS) and two-stage regression models were used to analyze patient data from 142 Austrian hospitals over the 2002-2006 period. The authors find that increased specialization in a service leads to a more efficient provision of this service in terms of shorter length of stay. The analysis shows that this effect holds even after controlling for volume, learning, and patient selection effects. The authors suggest that the pure specialization effect is due to the increased administrative and medical attention that is given to a service when the relative importance of that service increases. The paper's results indicate hospital managers should pay attention to the impact of specialization when making service-mix decisions. If two services have the same or a similar level of operational performance, then this does not mean that hospital managers should be indifferent as to the relative volume of these services.


Gstraunthaler, T., & Piber, M. (2012). The Performance of Museums and Other Cultural Institutions. International Studies of Management and Organization, 42(2), 29–42. [Link]

Abstract: This article investigates the performance measurement and evaluation practices of cultural organizations and inquires how 'performance' is understood, measured, and communicated to various stakeholders. We analyze the practice of performance measurement in two in-depth case studies of European museums of contemporary art. The performance of museums consists of financial performance and qualitative issues, two sets of performance that are targeted by radically different measurement and evaluation practices. The former is more company-like and includes the measurement of organizational efficiency. The latter comprises professional judgments. As in any other organization, both sets of performance are the basis for operative and strategic decisions concerning strategies and budgets. In addition, they provide the basis for various reports to external constituencies. As the consequences stemming from these decisions are severe, an accurate information-generation process and adequate performance measurement systems are essential.


Jordan, S., & Messner, M. (2012). Enabling control and the problem of incomplete performance indicators. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 37(8), 544–564. [Link]

Abstract: To which extent do managers care about the design characteristics of performance indicators and other control systems? The paper examines this question with the help of the framework of enabling and coercive control. Drawing upon data from a longitudinal field study in a manufacturing organisation, we study operational managers’ attitudes towards the incompleteness of performance indicators. Managers are likely to perceive performance indicators as enabling if the latter facilitate their actions without unduly constraining them. This is true even for incomplete performance indicators as long as managers can handle these indicators in a flexible way, treating them as means rather than ends when carrying out their work. Our case also shows, however, how a flexible use of indicators becomes more difficult to sustain once top management signals an increased importance of the indicators. Incompleteness then becomes a more pressing concern for managers. We illuminate the various forms of top management sense-giving through which such tightening of control is achieved and we show how they translate into managers’ perception of the control system as being a coercive rather than enabling one. Taken together, the findings of the present paper add to our understanding of enabling and coercive forms of control and also extend previous studies that have addressed the problem of incomplete accounting information.


Jørgensen, B., & Messner, M. (2010). Accounting and strategising: A case study from new product development. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 35(2), 184–204. [Link]

Abstract: This paper explores the relationship between accounting and strategy in a context that is characterised by pluralistic demands and high uncertainty about outcomes. By way of an ethnographic field study in an R&D intensive company, we analyse new product development (NPD) projects and the way in which decisions and practices concerning these projects are accounted for. Building upon a practice theory perspective, we find that actors account for the appropriateness of NPD practices not only or primarily on the basis of accounting information, but also by “strategising”, i.e. by mobilising different strategic objectives to which these practices are supposed to contribute. We argue that this has to do with the ambiguous demands on NPD and the limits of calculability inherent in NPD design decisions. At the same time, accounting information is not necessarily irrelevant in such a case; it can enter the picture as a general understanding that guides actors’ strategising efforts by reminding them of the ultimate importance of financial numbers.


Jørgensen, B., & Messner, M. (2009). Management Control in New Product Development: The Dynamics of Managing Flexibility and Efficiency. Journal of Management Accounting Research, 21(1), 99–124. [Link]

Abstract: Several studies in management control have drawn upon the concepts of coercive and enabling forms of bureaucracy (Adler and Borys 1996) to discuss how the features of a control system may affect employees' attitudes toward control. This question is relevant because enabling forms of control allow organizations to better manage tensions between efficiency and flexibility, which is arguably a key issue in many organizations today. Our paper contributes to this stream of research by detailing how enabling control functions in the particular setting of new product development. To this end, we draw upon empirical material collected through an in‐depth field study carried out in a manufacturing organization. We use data from interviews, participant observation, and internal documentation in this firm to demonstrate how the combination of different control mechanisms helps the organization balance efficiency and flexibility. In addition, our paper sets out to explore how strategic change can influence the operation of enabling control. Focusing on the introduction of a new product strategy in our case organization, we describe employees' repair efforts in adapting the control system to their own needs. We find that these repair efforts are perceived as not wholly satisfactory, which suggests that, in the case of important strategic changes, repair may require more top‐down management intervention.


Messner, M. (2009). The limits of accountability. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 34(8), 918–938. [Link]

Abstract: Calls for greater accountability from managers and corporations are regularly voiced these days, both in the academic literature and in public discussions more generally. Specifically, it is often suggested that extant financial and management accounting practices embody a rather restricted form of accountability that falls short of our mutual responsibilities as more than economic subjects. Against this backdrop, this paper raises the question of whether more accountability is always and unambiguously desirable from an ethical point of view. It does so by inquiring into the limits that the accountable self faces when giving an account. Building upon the recent work of Judith Butler, the paper describes the accountable self as an opaque, exposed, and mediated self that is inherently limited in its ability to give an account of itself. Because of these limits, we cannot expect demands for accountability always to be fully met. The paper points to the ethical importance of recognizing this limited nature of accountability and outlines possible ramifications of this fact for practice.


Messner, M., Becker, C., Schäffer, U., & Binder, C. (2008). Legitimacy and Identity in Germanic Management Accounting Research. European Accounting Review, 17(1), 129–159. [Link]

Abstract: The notion of ‘Controlling’, as it is commonly used in German-speaking countries, may be regarded as an equivalent term for management accounting. At the same time, there have been considerable efforts to establish Controlling as a discipline on its own, rather than to regard it simply as the German synonym of management accounting. This is reflected in many writings on Controlling which have tried to identify a possible ‘core’ or ‘essence’ of the subject. In this paper, we argue that this identity discourse may be interpreted as a strategy of Controlling researchers to achieve cognitive and sociopolitical legitimacy of their discipline. Drawing on interview material as well as publication and citation analyses, we show how various institutional pressures and constraints not only influenced the institutionalization of Controlling as an academic discipline but also impacted the form and substance of Controlling research. This raises some important questions for our understanding of academic disciplines more generally, some of which we address in this paper.


Habersam, M., & Piber, M. (2003). Exploring intellectual capital in hospitals: two qualitative case studies in Italy and Austria. European Accounting Review, 12(4), 753–779. [Link]

Abstract: This paper explores the relevance and awareness of intellectual capital (IC) in hospitals. Based on two qualitative case studies, one in the Veneto region, Italy, and one in the Tyrol region, Austria, the empirical study contributes to a better understanding of IC. The analysis of characteristics, notion and practices against two different cultural backgrounds allows to complement the widespread taxonomy of IC consisting of human, structural and relational capital by connectivity capital as a linking pin. In addition, different spheres of IC transparency are identified: metric, literal, intuitive and black box capital. With this new comprehensive framework a dynamic valuing of IC becomes possible. This takes into account that IC is being characterized by process-driven collective and individual capabilities in interaction. As a consequence, it is argued for a co-existence of financial metrics and non-metric rationalities in order to achieve transparency of IC.