Ethnographers must balance the tensions between the emic and etic dimensions of research. For example, they must simultaneously become an emic insider of the group studied, while at the same time retain their analytical distance to remain an etic outsider. This article discusses how these tensions manifest in head-, field-, and text-work by reviewing 52 self-declared management accounting ethnographies published between 1997 and 2017. The review shows that there is an (over-)emphasis on a realist tale-telling approach, in which the author’s voice is almost always effaced as tale-tellers detach themselves from the tales being told. As alternatives, we highlight confessional and impressionist tale-telling approaches. Although all three approaches offer advantages for addressing the emic-etic balance, they also all involve sacrifices. Thus, we urge researchers to give deeper consideration to text-work choices in management accounting ethnographies.

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