Patterns of corporate visual selfrepresentation in accounting narratives

Abstract: This dissertation deals with firms’ visual and pre-visual self-representations in accounting narratives. Self-representations are those descriptions about the company that firms include in accounting narratives to convey the current standings and their identity. External stakeholders increasingly expect non-numerical information about firms to be disclosed, and accounting narratives are a key medium for firms to account for their activities and maintain legitimacy as social actors. The question of which reporting conventions exist for legitimating selfrepresentations, especially from a visual perspective, remains unexplored. The purpose of this study is therefore to explore the empirical phenomenon of self-representations in accounting narratives in relation to legitimation rhetoric.The study is based on three research papers dealing with different patterns of self-representations in accounting-related narratives, including corporate reporting and business model diagrams. The examples are viewed through the theoretical lenses of semiotics and institutional theory, particularly legitimation theory. The study combines visual methods (visual content analysis and visual taxonomy) with other methods (interviews, text analysis) to conceptualize and exemplify what is meant by self-representations in accounting narratives. The study finds that there may be multiple parallel pre-visual self-representations at play to influence representations of the self, that visual self-representations are becoming more common in accounting narratives, and that several rhetorical strategies for legitimation are observable in these representations. By showing how diagrams can serve a legitimating purpose in accounting narratives, it is argued that diagrams should be considered on par with graphs and photographs as visual rhetorical devices in accounting narratives, and that they could be used as key communicative elements in the accounting process.Second, based on the longitudinal and comparative examples of self-representations, it is suggested that self-representations increasingly refer to abstract rather than concrete referents. This change is discussed in terms of the increasingly digital and service-based knowledge economy, where material referents give way to “amaterial” values. The contribution of this study is to describe selfrepresentations through several empirical examples, and to thereby increase awareness among practitioners and researchers of how visuals serve as communicative resources with legitimating functions in accounting narratives. Four concepts are proposed as tools for explaining the observed developments, and for improving visual literacy with regard to accounting narratives: inclusive perspective on accounting narratives, amateriality, self-representation, and diagrams.

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