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Impression management, myth creation and fabrication in private social and environmental reporting: Insights from Erving Goffman

  • Solomon, Jill F.
  • Solomon, Aris
  • Joseph, Nathan L.
  • Norton, Simon D.
Registered author(s):

    This paper explores the nature of private social and environmental reporting (SER). From interviews with UK institutional investors, we show that both investors and investees employ Goffmanesque, staged impression management as a means of creating and disseminating a dual myth of social and environmental accountability. The interviewees’ utterances unveil private meetings imbued with theatrical verbal and physical impression management. Most of the time, the investors’ shared awareness of reality belongs to a Goffmanesque frame whereby they accept no intentionality, misrepresentation or fabrication, believing instead that the ‘performers’ (investees) are not intending to deceive them. A shared perception that social and environmental considerations are subordinated to financial issues renders private SER an empty encounter characterised as a relationship-building exercise with seldom any impact on investment decision-making. Investors spoke of occasional instances of fabrication but these were insufficient to break the frame of dual myth creation. They only identified a handful of instances where intentional misrepresentation had been significant enough to alter their reality and behaviour. Only in the most extreme cases of fabrication and lying did the staged meeting break frame and become a genuine occasion of accountability, where investors demanded greater transparency, further meetings and at the extreme, divested shares. We conclude that the frontstage, ritualistic impression management in private SER is inconsistent with backstage activities within financial institutions where private financial reporting is prioritised. The investors appeared to be in a double bind whereby they devoted resources to private SER but were simultaneously aware that these efforts may be at best subordinated, at worst ignored, rendering private SER a predominantly cosmetic, theatrical and empty exercise.

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    File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0361368213000020
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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Accounting, Organizations and Society.

    Volume (Year): 38 (2013)
    Issue (Month): 3 ()
    Pages: 195-213

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:aosoci:v:38:y:2013:i:3:p:195-213
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    1. Jill Frances Solomon & Aris Solomon, 2006. "Private social, ethical and environmental disclosure," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 19(4), pages 564-591, July.
    2. McKinstry, Sam, 1996. "Designing the annual reports of burton plc from 1930 to 1994," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 89-111, January.
    3. Archel, Pablo & Husillos, Javier & Spence, Crawford, 2011. "The institutionalisation of unaccountability: Loading the dice of Corporate Social Responsibility discourse," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 36(6), pages 327-343.
    4. John Holland, 1998. "Private Voluntary Disclosure, Financial Intermediation and Market Efficiency," Journal of Business Finance & Accounting, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 25(1&2), pages 29-68.
    5. Roberts, John & Sanderson, Paul & Barker, Richard & Hendry, John, 2006. "In the mirror of the market: The disciplinary effects of company/fund manager meetings," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 31(3), pages 277-294, April.
    6. J. B. Holland & P. Doran, 1998. "Financial institutions, private acquisition of corporate information, and fund management," The European Journal of Finance, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 4(2), pages 129-155.
    7. Roberts, John, 1991. "The possibilities of accountability," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 16(4), pages 355-368.
    8. Norman Macintosh, 2009. "Accounting and the Truth of Earnings Reports: Philosophical Considerations," European Accounting Review, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 18(1), pages 141-175.
    9. Aerts, Walter, 2005. "Picking up the pieces: impression management in the retrospective attributional framing of accounting outcomes," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 30(6), pages 493-517, August.
    10. Roberts, John, 2009. "No one is perfect: The limits of transparency and an ethic for 'intelligent' accountability," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 34(8), pages 957-970, November.
    11. Messner, Martin, 2009. "The limits of accountability," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 34(8), pages 918-938, November.
    12. Graves, O. Finley & Flesher, Dale L. & Jordan, Robert E., 1996. "Pictures and the bottom line: The television epistemology of U.S. annual reports," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 57-88, January.
    13. Jill F. Solomon & Aris Solomon & Simon D. Norton & Nathan L. Joseph, 2011. "Private climate change reporting: an emerging discourse of risk and opportunity?," Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 24(8), pages 1119-1148, October.
    14. Preston, Alistair M. & Wright, Christopher & Young, Joni J., 1996. "IMag[in]ing annual reports," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 113-137, January.
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