Assembling social and environmental accounts: a critical ANT study in a Sri Lankan bank

Hitibandara, HMRM (2017) Assembling social and environmental accounts: a critical ANT study in a Sri Lankan bank. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Theoretical attempts in Social and Environmental Accounting (SEA) research have not paid sufficient attention to the internal processes and assemblages of producing SEA. This study closely examines the networks of human actors and non-human actants that, in the case of a Sri Lankan bank (anonymised as ABC Bank), produced the Social and Environmental Accounts. The first question this research addresses, therefore, is ‘what is the composition of the actor-network that produces the social and environmental accounts, and how was it assembled and reassembled’? The research adopts an Actor-network theory (ANT) approach. ANT is not only a theory, it is also a research approach, which guides the researcher in the collection of data. This opens up the second research question, which is: ‘what do we learn and how is our understanding of SEA changed through an application of an ANT approach to the study of the production of social and environmental accounts in a particular case’. ANT is often accused of being an essentially uncritical organisational theory, an approach that lacks the capacity to carry substantive political critique. This unresolved debate leads to the third research question that this thesis sets out to answer: ‘can the application of ANT as a research approach, in the study of a particular case of SEA reporting, be critical and if so how’?

In this research, the data collection has been carried out through the study of the production of the social and environmental accounts of the case company in two consecutive years. ANT as a theory provides methodological guidance that exhorts the researcher “to follow the actors”, and to attend to the relations between actors and the performativity of the network. Following this guidance carefully, it takes us close to the actors and reveals the contingency of the production of the social and environmental accounts on the mobilisation of actors and their interests. This research demonstrates that SEA reporting is shaped by the contingencies of the network behind the production of the accounts, including the relations between the ambitions and vanities of individuals and the interests and features of things including reporting award schemes and standards. This leads to identifying two different actor-network building processes and different outcomes in the two years studied.

The findings of this research lead us to critically question the putative functions of SEA and leads us to question whether they respond to norms of accountability. This study challenges the normative objectives of SEA found in the prior literature. While ANT does allow us to develop, in detail, a view of how things are and how they come to be through the mobilisation of power and translation of interests. Such understanding provides a basis for a critical challenge to the way things are. The study demonstrates the critical use of
ANT approach and shows that ANT is not only a “valuable framework for the empirical analysis of the organising process” (Whittle and Spicer, 2008, p. 611) but also able to provide a critical account of the organisation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Social and environmental accounts, power and translation, Actor-network theory.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HF Commerce > HF5601 Accounting
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School > Accounting and Finance
Supervisor's Name: McKernan, Professor J.F. and Stoner, Dr. G.
Date of Award: 2017
Depositing User: Mr. HMRM Hitibandara
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-8600
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2017 16:37
Last Modified: 28 Nov 2017 16:00

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