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Legitimacy theory: Despite its enduring popularity and contribution, time is right for a necessary makeover

Deegan, C 2019 , 'Legitimacy theory: Despite its enduring popularity and contribution, time is right for a necessary makeover' , Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, vol. 32, no. 8 , pp. 2307-2329 , doi: 10.1108/AAAJ-08-2018-3638.

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Abstract

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to reflect upon the contributions made to the social andenvironmental accounting literature by papers that comprised a 2002 Special Issue of Accounting, Auditingand Accountability Journal (AAAJ) entitled social and environmental reporting and its role in maintaining orcreating organisational legitimacy. This paper will also provide insights into the origins of legitimacy theoryas used in the social and environmental accounting literature as well as providing reflections about thestrengths, and shortcomings, of the theory. Suggestions are made with respect to the ongoing application, anddevelopment, of legitimacy theory.Design/methodology/approach: As a commentary, this paper utilises a review of the social andenvironmental accounting and institutional literature across a number of decades to reveal insights about thedevelopment and use of legitimacy theory as a basis to explain social and environmental reporting practices.Citation data are also used to indicate the potential impact that the papers in the 2002 Special Issue had uponsubsequent research.Findings:This commentary shows that the 2002 Special Issue is the most highly cited issue in the history ofAAAJ. It also shows that individually, some of the papers in the Special Issue represent some of the mosthighly cited papers in the social and environmental accounting literature. The commentary providesarguments to suggest that the development of legitimacy theory is in need of further refinement, and suggestsa way in which this refinement might take place.Research limitations/implications: This paper is largely based on the opinions of one researcher, andthe evidence presented in the paper is selected on the basis that it is deemed sufficient to support the opinionsbeing projected. The paper also relies on citation data as an indicator of “impact”. The implication of theresearch is that it identifies a “way forward” for the development of theory applicable to the understanding oforganisational social and environmental reporting practices.Originality/value: The study provides evidence to show that the 2002 Special Issue was significant withinthe context of AAAJ, and also within the context of the evolution of the social and environmental accountingliterature. The description of the history of the development of legitimacy theory, and of the theory’ssubsequent application, provides a solid impetus for future refinements to the theory.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Deegan, C
Keywords: legitimacy theory, institutional environment, legitimacy, social and environmental accounting
Journal or Publication Title: Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Publisher: Emerald Publishing Limited
ISSN: 1368-0668
DOI / ID Number: 10.1108/AAAJ-08-2018-3638
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2019 Emerald Publishing Limited

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