Danubius International Conferences, 22nd EMAN Conference. Social Responsibility and Sustainability Accounting-Key Corporate Performance Drivers and Measures

The subpolitics of reporting boundaries

Carla Antonini, Cornelia Beck, Carlos Larrinaga
Last modified: 2018-04-05


It has been argued that laws emanating from parliamentary debates and the enforcement of a Westphalian state are playing a declining role in the regulation of the present society. Instead, a substantial part of the political process is played in techno-economic spheres, outside the conventional political spheres. Those techno-economic spheres, which could include intergovernmental organizations, consumer movements, the corporate world, science and technology, are characterized by producing socio-political changes without the participation in traditional politics. Beck (1997) has suggested that those techno-economic spheres, which he calls subpolitical, offer opportunities for the politicization of new areas. In the area of sustainability and corporate social responsibility, consumer movements have been studied from a subpolitical point of view (Holzer and Sørensen, 2003). However, the role played by accounting technologies has received scant attention. Hopwood (2009) suggested, that we are likely to see accounting playing a growing role in social aspects of sustainability and policies. The question that arises is what is the interplay between technical specificities of sustainability reporting and its political relevance.

This research explores the role of an specific accounting technique, boundary setting for sustainability reporting, in the process of legitimation. More in detail, the study explores the interrelation between reporting boundaries and external pressures demanding to improve employees and work conditions in business. As well as how the unsettled nature of reporting boundaries for supply-chain indicators enables the reproduction of conflict in this subpolitical process. We draw from the concepts of subpolitics and legitimation theory to explore the role of sustainability reporting boundaries when the state presence is weaken in the legitimation process. This paper contribution is twofold: (a) to focus the study into the technical accounting of reporting boundary setting and (b) to explore the legitimation of working conditions when the role of the State is uncertain and the negotiation is done in a subpolitical arena.