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The legitimising effect of social and environmental disclosures – a theoretical foundation

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This paper serves as an introduction to this special issue of Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal; an issue which embraces themes associated with social and environmental reporting (SAR) and its role in maintaining or creating organisational legitimacy. In an effort to place this research in context the paper begins by making reference to contemporary trends occurring in social and environmental accounting research generally, and this is then followed by an overview of some of the many research questions which are currently being addressed in the area. Understanding motivations for disclosure is shown to be one of the issues attracting considerable research attention, and the desire to legitimise an organisation's operations is in turn shown to be one of the many possible motivations. The role of legitimacy theory in explaining managers' decisions is then discussed and it is emphasised that legitimacy theory, as it is currently used, must still be considered to be a relatively under-developed theory of managerial behaviour. Nevertheless, it is argued that the theory provides useful insights. Finally, the paper indicates how the other papers in this issue of AAAJ contribute to the ongoing development of legitimacy theory in SAR research.
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Keywords: Environmental Audit; Motivation; Social Accounting

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2002-08-22

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