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Examining the dynamics of SER evolution: an institutional understanding

Massimo Contrafatto (Department of Management, Economics and Quantitative Methods, University of Bergamo, Bergamo, Italy)
Ericka Costa (Department of Economics and Management, University of Trento, Trento, Italy)
Caterina Pesci (Department of Economics and Management, University of Trento, Trento, Italy)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 23 July 2019

Issue publication date: 19 September 2019




The purpose of this paper is to provide a theoretically informed analysis of social and environmental reporting (SER) evolution, i.e. how and why the SER evolved over time in a cooperative bank in Italy.


The paper is based on a qualitative fieldwork case study conducted from 2011 to 2015. Information and data were collected through several methods including: interviews with managers involved in the SER’s process; analysis of the SER-related documents; analysis of the website; and observations in the field. The analysis of the empirical evidence draws on the institutional logic (IL) perspective, which provides theoretical insights to interpret the role of the contrasting institutional forces in the evolution of SER.


The empirical analysis unveils three different stages in the evolution of SER: the “birth” whereby a new form of social reporting was initiated; the “development” through which SER was implemented to become a formal component of the organizational management; and the “de-structuring” when the SER was gradually de-composed. This gradual de-structuring, as well as the initiation and implementation processes, was influenced by different institutionally infused rationalities and logics. These institutionally infused rationalities and logics, along with the specific organizational and contextual events, provided the resources, and created the space and opportunity, for the SER-related changes to occur.


The analysis offers theoretical insights to understand “how” (i.e. processes) and “why” (i.e. the conditions under which) SER gradually evolved, i.e. emerged, was constructed and developed during the phases of implementation and post-implementation. Furthermore, it is shown that SER is multifunctional in nature and unveils how and why these multiple functions change over time. Finally, the analysis provides a theoretical contribution by illuminating the role that different and contrasting ILs play in driving the adoption of organizational practices.



The authors are very grateful to Jan Bebbington, Ian Thomson and Jeffrey Unerman for many helpful comments and advice during the writing of this paper. In addition, the authors wish to especially thank David Collison for his helpful suggestions during the revision process. Also, the authors would like to immensely thank the three anonymous reviewers and the Editor In Chief, Lee Parker, for their comments, suggestions and assistance in developing the paper. Finally, the authors would like to thank participants at the: 10th Spanish CSEAR Conference held Seville in 2015; 28th International CSEAR Conference held in St Andrews 2016; research seminars organized at the Business Schools of the University of Dundee and University of Birmingham, respectively, in 2017 and 2018.


Contrafatto, M., Costa, E. and Pesci, C. (2019), "Examining the dynamics of SER evolution: an institutional understanding", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 32 No. 6, pp. 1771-1800.



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