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Social and environmental accounting in developing countries: contextual challenges and insights

Wei Qian (UniSA Business, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia)
Carol Tilt (UniSA Business, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia)
Ataur Belal (Management School, University of Sheffield - The Edge, Sheffield, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 12 April 2021

Issue publication date: 7 June 2021




The purpose of this paper is to review most recent developments of social and environmental accounting (SEA) in the context of developing countries and to offer insights for the latest research in this field. It also provides an introduction to the AAAJ special issue.


The authors have undertaken a conceptual overview of the field developed in the past two decades (2001–2020) with a view to identify major themes, trends and future research directions.


The overview reveals that only 43 SEA papers addressing contextual challenges of developing countries have been published in leading accounting journals in the last 20 years. The coverage of these publications is concentrated in a small number of countries and regions. Interdisciplinary accounting journals, especially AAAJ, are the main publishing outlets in this field. The topic areas are dominated by social accounting challenges, with much less focus on environmental accounting, although developing countries are particularly exposed to the threats of climate change, water pollution and biodiversity loss. The literature reviewed uses elaborating, problematising and theorising contexts as three main contextualisation approaches to analyse contextual themes framed around regulatory, political, cultural and religious, and social-economic systems. Although various conceptual lenses have been adopted in the developing country SEA literature, the use of institutional theory and its various extensions to address political and cultural complexities seems to become more prominent, as shown in most of the contributions included in this special issue.

Research limitations/implications

This review is limited to leading accounting journals. SEA research increasingly published in other disciplines such as in management, social and environmental areas might provide a more comprehensive view in this research field.


In this paper, inter alia, the authors review and synthesise the previous literature in a conceptual framework, illustrating and highlighting the importance of contextual framing of SEA in developing countries. Based on this review, the authors propose some ideas for a future research agenda aiming to advance the field. The authors expect this paper and the special issue to act as a reference point for emerging SEA researchers from developing countries to raise more scholarly impactful enquiries in this area.



The authors of this paper are very grateful to the authors who contributed to this special issue and the dedicated referees who made enormous efforts in helping with paper reviews. The authors are also particularly thankful for Professor James Guthrie, who provided strong support and valuable suggestions for the authors to successfully manage this special issue. Any remaining errors are the authors’ own responsibility.


Qian, W., Tilt, C. and Belal, A. (2021), "Social and environmental accounting in developing countries: contextual challenges and insights", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 34 No. 5, pp. 1021-1050.



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