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Den visuella bilden av organisationen: Perspektiv på visualitet i accounting
Linköping University, Department of Management and Engineering, Industrial Economics. Linköping University, Faculty of Science & Engineering.
2020 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)Alternative title
Five essays on visuality in accounting (English)
Abstract [en]

Organisations play a crucial role as actors that shape material action and societal discourse; therefore, it is important to understand the ways in which they gain legitimacy and how they shape society. The power of accounting representations to construct the accounting object – the organisation – is therefore a key concern in the accounting literature. Accounting is widely treated as a numbers-based ‘language of business’ through which ‘paper world’ representations shape outcomes in the material world. At present, visuality (the presence of visual images and visual thinking) is gaining influence as a means to represent organisations and construct accounting objects visually. As visuality continues to expand into the realm of accounting, questions emerge about its role and the possibilities of combining the two ‘languages’ during a time when management research is facing a “visual turn”.

The purpose of this dissertation is to explore the nature of visuality in accounting. The dissertation is based on five essays that contribute to the visual turn through semiotic analysis of visual texts and qualitative case studies. Paper I explores how business model diagrams – an example of a corporate self-representation – can be designed, and proposes a typology of four main logics for illustrating value creation: classification, circularity, processes and transactions. Paper II describes the development of visuals use in the annual report, finding that visuals are used in greater numbers overall, and that diagrams are a relatively new visual resource in financial reporting. The paper also outlines the trend of a materiality, that is, that visuals increasingly refer to a non-specific and symbol-based idea of the organisation. In Paper III, internal and external representations of a business model are compared, and I conclude that self-representations can be based on parallel but conflicting interpretations of an idea. Paper IV proposes a new visual method for analysing combinations of graphs and texts, and shows that the ‘rhythm’ of graph use in the annual report increasingly integrates visuality in accounting narratives so that accounting and visuality overlap. Finally, Paper V explores challenges and opportunities of a digitalisation of visual artefacts based on the experiences of three organisations that used visual management before the transition.

The theoretical contribution of this dissertation is framed in terms of two perspectives. First, a developmental perspective highlights that the nature of visuality has become more prominent in accounting settings, and that the nature of visuality has changed from materiality-based to a material practices that favour conceptual visualisations like diagrams and visual symbols. Second, visuality is explored from an ‘overlaps’ perspective. Three explanations for the role of visuality in accounting are synthesised from the literature: separation, convergence and multilingualism. The contribution is to conceptualise these ‘overlap models’ and thereby deepen the understanding of the role played by visuality in accounting. I also propose a fourth model – bridging – to extend the range of explanations for the meaning of a visual form of accounting.

Based on the findings that visuality is more prominent and that the role of visuality is changing, it is proposed visual literacy is an important skill for practitioners who use visual images in accounting. The dissertation presents two frameworks that can contribute to visual literacy. The ‘transformationality framework’ shows how to analyse underlying ideas in corporate diagrams, and the ‘rhythm framework’ illustrates how to shape, use and analyse accounting texts in terms of how combinations of visuals form different rhythms in the annual report.

Abstract [sv]

Organisationer spelar en avgörande roll som aktörer i dagens samhälle, och påverkar såväl den materiella världen som våra gemensamma uppfattningar om den. Här har redovisningen en viktig roll att spela eftersom den ofta beskrivs som det ”ekonomiska språket” (på engelska ”the language of business”) och därmed har makt att konstruera uppfattningar om världen – i redovisningstermer. Det pågår en utveckling där det visuella spelar en allt större roll i detta konstruerande, vilket ger upphov till överlappning mellan den historiskt sett sifferbaserade redovisningen, och det visuella, vilket kan ses som två olika språk som möts. Utvecklingen att ”visualiteten” spelar allt större roll i organisationer kallas ibland ”the visual turn” (den visuella vändningen), och det är till denna strömning som avhandlingens resultat bidrar genom att utforska perspektiv på visualitet i redovisningen.

Syftet med avhandlingen är att utforska visuella bilder av organisationer för att föreslå sätt att förstå visualitet i redovisningssammanhang, det vill säga i ekonomistyrning, redovisning och finansiell rapportering. Avhandlingen bygger på fem vetenskapliga artiklar som använder metoderna semiotisk analys och kvalitativa fallstudier. Artikel I undersöker hur affärsmodellsdiagram, ett exempel på ett konceptuellt ”självporträtt” av organisationen – en visuell bild – kan utformas, och föreslår en typologi med fyra sätt att illustrera värdeskapande: som byggstenar, transaktioner, processer eller som en cykel. Artikel II beskriver hur bildanvändning i Ericssons årsredovisningar utvecklats mellan 1947 och 2016. Analysen visar att bildanvändningen gått mot en ”amaterialisering", det vill säga att bilderna i ökande grad visualiserar en icke-specifik och symbolbaserad bild av organisationen. I Artikel III undersöks interna och externa beskrivningar av en affärsmodell – en mental bild – med slutsatsen att olika, ibland motsägande, självrepresentationer kan förekomma parallellt i samma organisation. Artikel IV föreslår en ny visuell metod för att undersöka informationssekvenser i årsredovisningar. Genom att analysera grafer visar jag att visualitet kan förstås som ”rytmer” som bidrar till att skapa en bild av organisationers prestationer i redovisningssammanhang. Slutligen undersöker Artikel V visualitet i tre organisationer som använder leanbaserad styrning, som är ett visuellt styrparadigm. Artikeln beskriver utmaningar de ställs inför i samband med införandet av nya digitala versioner av det visuella styrverktyget pulstavlor.

Det teoretiska bidraget i avhandlingen formuleras utifrån två perspektiv. För det första visar utvecklingsperspektivet att visualiteten överlag fått en mer framträdande roll i redovisningen, samt att denna roll kommit att baseras alltmer på amaterialitet när det gäller att konstruera bilden av organisationen. För det andra används överlappningsperspektivet för att undersöka sätt att förklara visualitetens roll i redovisningen. Tre förklaringsmodeller för visualitet sammanställs och diskuteras utifrån företagsekonomisk litteratur: separation, konvergens och flerspråkighet. Dessutom föreslås en fjärde modell – länkning – för att bredda förståelsen av visualitet.

Eftersom visualiteten visas spela en större, och delvis förändrad, roll i redovisningen föreslås att visuell läskunnighet är en viktig förmåga för personer som interagerar med redovisningsinformation. Avhandlingen lägger fram två ramverk som kan bidra till visuell läskunnighet. Typologin av affärsmodeller från Artikel I och den tillhörande idén att diagram visar olika grad av förändring (transformationalitet) föreslås kunna användas för att designa bättre affärsmodeller, och den visuella metoden för att ”se” bildanvändning utifrån metaforen musikalisk rytm från Artikel IV, föreslås att användas för att tänka sekventiellt på formulering av budskap vid utformning och granskning av visuella bilder av organisationer.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2020. , p. 88
Series
Linköping Studies in Science and Technology. Dissertations, ISSN 0345-7524 ; 2075Dissertation from the Swedish Research School of Management and Information Technology (MIT). Dissertation ; 119
Keywords [en]
visuality, accounting, semiotics, visual management, financial reporting, visualisation
Keywords [sv]
visualitet, redovisning, ekonomistyrning, semiotik, visual management, finansiell rapportering, visualisering
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Economic Information Systems
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-165208DOI: 10.3384/diss.diva-165208ISBN: 9789179298432 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-165208DiVA, id: diva2:1426092
Public defence
2020-06-04, ACAS, A-huset, Campus Valla, Linköping, 13:15 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

Forskningsfinansiär: Forskarskolan MIT

Available from: 2020-04-23 Created: 2020-04-23 Last updated: 2020-05-11Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. A visual perspective on value creation: Exploring patterns in business model diagrams
Open this publication in new window or tab >>A visual perspective on value creation: Exploring patterns in business model diagrams
2018 (English)In: European Management Journal, ISSN 0263-2373, E-ISSN 1873-5681, Vol. 36, no 4, p. 441-452Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This study was inspired by the diversity of styles found in the way companies represent their business model visually. Through the visual analysis of how 242 business model diagrams collected from websites and annual reports represent transformation of value, this study identifies a typology of four basic patterns of business model visualization. The typology adds to previous visualization research by proposing two new types of transformational diagram formats, namely transactive and cyclical structures. It is further argued that the typology can be used as a framework for researchers to describe, evaluate and compare the underlying logics of value creation in business model conceptualizations, and for practitioners to generate different business model designs by drawing on the benefits of visualization, such as a more holistic understanding of ideas, better buy-in and improved group communication. (C) 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
ELSEVIER SCI LTD, 2018
Keywords
Business model; Visual research; Diagrams; Corporate disclosure; Communication
National Category
Business Administration
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-151206 (URN)10.1016/j.emj.2017.12.002 (DOI)000442190600002 ()
Available from: 2018-09-13 Created: 2018-09-13 Last updated: 2020-04-23
2. Visual trends in the annual report: the case of Ericsson 1947-2016
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Visual trends in the annual report: the case of Ericsson 1947-2016
2018 (English)In: Corporate Communications. An International Journal, ISSN 1356-3289, E-ISSN 1758-6046, Vol. 23, no 3, p. 312-325Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose: Disclosure research has argued that visuals are increasingly used in annual reports as a way to increase readability of the annual report, but comparatively little is known about of diagrams compared to graphs and photographs. The purpose of this paper is to provide a historical account of visuals use in corporate disclosure, with an emphasis on diagrams, to show changes from the 1940s until present-day reporting.

Design/methodology/approach: Visual research methods were applied to analyze how diagrams, photographs and graphs were used in 69 annual reports of the Swedish telecom company Ericsson.

Findings: Photographs have been used with increasing frequency since the 1950s. Graph and diagram use has increased significantly since the 1990s while photograph use remained stable, suggesting that graphs and diagrams increasingly complement photographs for visually representing the organization in corporate disclosure. Factors explaining the case company’s development include both internal (performance, individual preferences, shifting from a manufacturing-based strategy to a service-based strategy) and external (legislation, transformation of the telecom industry).

Originality/value: Visual elements in annual reports are increasingly oriented toward immaterial representations of the organization’s standings and identity and diagrams are increasingly used and contribute to this. This finding motivates further research about diagram use in corporate communication, such as how different diagram types convey accounting messages, and whether diagrams serve as impression management devices. For regulators, it will be important to follow the emerging trend of diagram use, since it is becoming part of reporting practice.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2018
Keywords
Annual report, Longitudinal, Telecom, Diagrams, Historical study, Visual accounting
National Category
Business Administration
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-149264 (URN)10.1108/CCIJ-03-2017-0015 (DOI)
Available from: 2018-10-12 Created: 2018-10-12 Last updated: 2020-04-23
3. Communicating The Business Model at a Swedish Start-Up: An Interpretive Study
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Communicating The Business Model at a Swedish Start-Up: An Interpretive Study
2019 (English)In: Journal of Business Models, ISSN 2246-2465, Vol. 7, no 2, p. 14-30Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose: Although the notion of articulating and communicating ideas is central to theories of business models, the current literature has scarcely explored how business models are used and communicated by practitioners. The label “business model” itself can both organize and construct beliefs and actions. The purpose of this paper is to explore the roles of practitioner-described business models by using an interpretive approach.

Design/Methodology/Approach: The study is based on the case study of a Swedish technology start-up with a business model labelled “hardware plus software”. The firm’s conceptualizations of this business model in public and non-public sources were analysed in order to show how a practitioner-described business model was used.

Findings and Contributions: The business model label can be used at different organizational levels using different levels of abstraction, and may include multiple—and sometimes conflicting—perspectives. The paper shows how a practitioner-defined business model label served as a communication device by supporting three roles: communicating strategy, learning from others, and articulating identity.

Originality/Value: The study introduces the notion of the business model as a communication device by showing how the label itself both enables and constrains interpretations of the firm in practice. The finding of parallel representations contradicts the implicit assumption that firms refer to a “single business model” by showing the diversity of articulations of the business model depending on the time frame, the role of the communicator, and communication arenas.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Aalborg Universitetsforlag, 2019
Keywords
communication, business model, archetypal label, case study, new venture, kommunikation, affärsmodell, arketyp, fallstudie, nystartat företag
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Economic Information Systems
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-160201 (URN)
Available from: 2019-11-26 Created: 2019-11-26 Last updated: 2020-04-23Bibliographically approved

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