Organisational Management of Institutional Complexity

The emergence of sustainability reporting in a Chinese state-owned enterprise.

  • Wed 3 Nov 21

    14:00 - 16:00

  • Online

    Join this seminar

  • Event speaker

    Professor Massimo Contrafatto, University of Bergamo

  • Event type

    Lectures, talks and seminars
    Essex Accounting Centre (EAC) Research Seminar Series

  • Event organiser

    Essex Business School

  • Contact details

    Chaoyuan She

The aim of the Essex Accounting Centre (EAC) research seminar series is to support our world-class research activities in five key areas: accounting and global development; capital markets, audit, regulation and reporting; publicness and resilience, precarity, exclusion and social justice; and environment, climate change and vulnerability. The seminar series is also expected to promote interdisciplinary research that links the work of members of the centre with others both within the university and with external institutions.

Seminar abstract

Nowadays organizations operate in pluralistic and increasingly more complex institutional environments that are characterized by the presence of multiple and often competing institutional logics (ILs, hereafter) at society- and field- levels. Prior studies have substantially increased our understanding of the (field, organizational and individual) factors/determinants, the strategies (e.g., defiance, combination and blending) and the effects on organizations (e.g. structures, practices, identity) that are related to the mechanisms of response to institutional complexity. Nevertheless, there is still a need to further investigate how these response mechanisms occur and are managed over time in- and by- organizations. In particular, there is a need to understand how these multiple/competing ILs work on the ground and to examine how these response-related mechanisms emerge by considering in particular the interplay between fields’ conditions, organizational factors and individuals’ strategic actions.

In this presentation we draw on the work of Thornton et al., (2012) and Pache and Santos (2013, a,b) to propose an enriched theoretical framework of the micro-foundations of ILs.

The empirical evidence was collected through:

  1. a six-month long participant observation of sustainability reporting process in 2014,
  2. a series of formal semi-structured interviews with 25 individuals involved in the reporting,
  3. an analysis of previous CSR reports, the archival documentary (e.g. minutes of several corporate-level meetings chaired by senior management),
  4. numerous government’s official narratives, announcement of rules and guidelines, speech of senior politicians in the national congress which could affect the sustainability activities in Chinese SOEs over the past years; and another three follow-up site visits were made in 2015, 2017 and 2019, respectively, including further interviews and observations.

Our empirical analysis provides insights to better understand not only how organizations, especially those that are under permanent competing ILs (e.g., hybrid organizations), function but also are able to survive in pluralistic and complex institutional environments. In addition, our analysis provides further insights to enhance the understanding of the transformative capacities of (sustainability) accounting to help organizations to cope with, and potentially “compartmentalize”, conflicts between the demands/prescriptions of competing ILs and, in doing so, to prevent organizational tensions and ruptures. Our analysis, in particular, shows that the response mechanisms, the organizational (meso) factors and the interpretive acts of these conditions/factors, were mediated and enabled by the emergence of sustainability reporting practices.

Our paper provides three main contributions. First, our analysis provides an in-depth and contextualised empirical evidence to flesh out our theoretical understanding of the micro foundations of how organizations manage complexity and how they respond to competing ILs, by detailing not only the factors but also the processual dynamics of these responses. Second, our analysis extends the understanding of the role that specific organizational practices, and in particular (sustainability) accounting, may play as a medium for navigating organizations through complex and changing institutional environments. Finally, our work proposes a revised and richer theoretical model for understanding ‘how’ and ‘to what extent’ competing ILs affect organizational/individual practices and how in turn these practices, once enacted, affect existing ILs and the related strategies of response.


How to attend this seminar

This seminar is free to attend with no need to register in advance.

Please join this seminar online on Wednesday 3 November at 2pm

We welcome you to join with your friends, colleagues and classmates.


Speaker bio

Massimo Contrafatto is Associate Professor of Accounting and Accountability in the Department of Management at the University of Bergamo (Italy) where he teaches social accounting and management accounting.

He is also an Honorary Senior Fellow at the University of Dundee.

His research interests are primarily in;

  • social and environmental accounting and reporting,
  • accountability and stewardship,
  • institutional theory
  • organizational change.

Massimo has carried out research on these topics, including fieldwork with diverse organizations - multinationals, social enterprises, co-operatives and foundations.

He is also;

  • a member of the Executive Council of CSEAR (Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research) based at St. Andrews University;
  • Co-director of CSEAR Italy based in Bergamo University;
  • Associate Member of CRIS (Research Centre on Sustainability) at Royal Holloway University, London.

He is currently carrying out research projects with international colleagues of prestigious institutions: for example, University of St. Andrews (Scotland), London Royal Holloway University, University of Sheffield (UK), University of Newcastle (UK) and Birmingham University (UK).

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