The historical evolution and popularity of activity-based thinking in management accounting
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Purpose This paper aims to examine the historical evolution and popularity of activity-based thinking in management accounting. As an organising framework, this paper applies the lens of management fashion theory, which is a perspective that is well suited to the examination of the lifecycles of management accounting concepts and ideas. Design/methodology/approach This paper pursues a bibliographic approach to better understand the past and present state of activity-based thinking. Thus, this paper attempts to piece together a mosaic picture by synthesising existing research on activity-based thinking from a wide range of academic and practitioner-oriented sources. Findings While the original activity-based costing (ABC) model has evolved and broadened and has generated new related concepts, studies suggest that it is not as successful as accounting concepts such as the balanced scorecard. The overall popularity trajectory of activity-based thinking can be considered to be negative, and it is currently not receiving much attention in accounting journals. Research limitations/implications This paper is based on desk research and is limited by a reliance on secondary sources. In addition, it may be subject to the authors’ own biases when it comes to defining relevant articles studied. Practical implications This paper provides more insight into the evolution and popularity of activity-based thinking and discusses some of the reasons why it is not more widely used in practice. Originality/value Although many studies have examined the diffusion of ABC-related techniques, most are quite dated. More than 30 years have passed since the coining of the ABC term, and the time is ripe to provide a historical re-examination of the impact of this type of thinking in the field of accounting and to consider the latest developments and trends.