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Shifting corporate concerns: three papers on sustainability, corporate responsibility and the changing role of accounting

Bartels, Frieda Louise Charlotte (2023) Shifting corporate concerns: three papers on sustainability, corporate responsibility and the changing role of accounting. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004600


This thesis examines the emergence and change of the concern with corporate sustainability from the 1950s onwards, as manifested in the discourse of practitioners, academics and standard-setters primarily in Europe. By drawing on different notions of responsibility, the study explores how corporations take on responsibility for sustainability issues and how they demarcate their impact on supposedly external issues. The empirical core of this thesis are fieldwork involvements at the Global Reporting Initiative and at an investment trust, that are supplemented by semi-structured interviews and document analyses. These insights allow taking on a historical, a regulatory and an investor-related perspective, respectively, in the three papers. The first paper offers a historical analysis of the emergence of the concern with corporate sustainability revealing narrowing and widening tendencies in its spatial, substantial and temporal dimension. The second paper critically assesses the mobilisation of materiality in the crowded field of sustainability standard-setting and characterises it as co-dependent. The third paper sheds light on the organisational articulation of corporate sustainability and argues that matters of fact and matters of concern jointly stabilise. The thesis aims to contribute to our understanding of the accounting entity in times of growing responsibility of firms for formerly external impacts, specifically the process of taking on such responsibility. Struggles of translating between heterogenous ideas on environmental, social and governance factors and the corporate sphere reveal how materiality of impacts is determined. Responsibility shifts from being a liability to becoming an investment opportunity for firms. Further, tensions are unpacked between the inherently boundary-spanning nature of responsibility and the boundary-enforcing accounting entity. Ultimately, the thesis shows processes underlying the usage and extent of responsibility in a corporate context. Based on this, a grammar of demarcation is introduced shedding light on the role of accounting in dealing with the concern with corporate sustainability.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Frieda Louise Charlotte Bartels
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
H Social Sciences > HF Commerce > HF5601 Accounting
Sets: Departments > Accounting
Supervisor: Power, Michael and Mennicken, Andrea

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