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Visual trends in the annual report: the case of Ericsson 1947-2016
Linköping University, Department of Management and Engineering, Industrial Economics. Linköping University, Faculty of Science & Engineering.
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. Vol. 23, no 3, p. 312-325
Keywords [en]
Annual report, Longitudinal, Telecom, Diagrams, Historical study, Visual accounting
National Category
Business Administration
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-149264DOI: 10.1108/CCIJ-03-2017-0015OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-149264DiVA, id: diva2:1255488
Available from: 2018-10-12 Created: 2018-10-12 Last updated: 2018-12-12
In thesis
1. Patterns of corporate visual selfrepresentation in accounting narratives
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Patterns of corporate visual selfrepresentation in accounting narratives
2017 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This dissertation deals with firms’ visual and pre-visual self-representations in accounting narratives. Self-representations are those descriptions about the company that firms include in accounting narratives to convey the current standings and their identity. External stakeholders increasingly expect non-numerical information about firms to be disclosed, and accounting narratives are a key medium for firms to account for their activities and maintain legitimacy as social actors. The question of which reporting conventions exist for legitimating selfrepresentations, especially from a visual perspective, remains unexplored. The purpose of this study is therefore to explore the empirical phenomenon of self-representations in accounting narratives in relation to legitimation rhetoric.

The study is based on three research papers dealing with different patterns of self-representations in accounting-related narratives, including corporate reporting and business model diagrams. The examples are viewed through the theoretical lenses of semiotics and institutional theory, particularly legitimation theory. The study combines visual methods (visual content analysis and visual taxonomy) with other methods (interviews, text analysis) to conceptualize and exemplify what is meant by self-representations in accounting narratives. The study finds that there may be multiple parallel pre-visual self-representations at play to influence representations of the self, that visual self-representations are becoming more common in accounting narratives, and that several rhetorical strategies for legitimation are observable in these representations. By showing how diagrams can serve a legitimating purpose in accounting narratives, it is argued that diagrams should be considered on par with graphs and photographs as visual rhetorical devices in accounting narratives, and that they could be used as key communicative elements in the accounting process.

Second, based on the longitudinal and comparative examples of self-representations, it is suggested that self-representations increasingly refer to abstract rather than concrete referents. This change is discussed in terms of the increasingly digital and service-based knowledge economy, where material referents give way to “amaterial” values. The contribution of this study is to describe selfrepresentations through several empirical examples, and to thereby increase awareness among practitioners and researchers of how visuals serve as communicative resources with legitimating functions in accounting narratives. Four concepts are proposed as tools for explaining the observed developments, and for improving visual literacy with regard to accounting narratives: inclusive perspective on accounting narratives, amateriality, self-representation, and diagrams.

Abstract [sv]

Denna licentiatavhandling handlar om företags visuella och ”för-visuella” själv-representationer i kontexten redovisning. Till självrepresentationer hör de beskrivningar som företaget inkluderar i sin externt rapporterade information för att förmedla dess ställning och identitet. Externa intressenter förväntar sig i ökande utsträckning att även icke-numerisk information redovisas av företaget, vilket gör denna typ av externt rapporterade information viktig för att redovisa aktiviteter och för företag att därigenom bibehålla legitimitet som sociala aktörer. Frågan om vilka rapporteringskonventioner som finns kring företags självrepresentationer är i dagsläget inte utforskad. Syftet med denna studie är därför att undersöka det empiriska fenomenet självrepresentationer i kontexten redovisning kopplat till perspektivet legitimeringsretorik.

Studien baserar sig på tre forskningsartiklar som behandlar olika empiriska exempel och mönster av självrepresentationer, exempelvis affärsmodellsdiagram. Dessa betraktas utifrån de teoretiska linserna semiotik och institutionell teori, speciellt legitimeringsteori. Studien kombinerar visuella metoder (visuell innehållsanalys och visuell taxonomi) med andra metoder (intervjuer och textanalys) för att konceptualisera och exemplifiera vad som menas med självrepresentation i kontexten redovisning. Studien finner att det kan förekomma många parallella för-visuella självrepresentationer som påverkar företags självuppfattning, att visuella självrepresentationer blir alltmer vanliga i företags externt publicerade information, och att flera retoriska legitimeringsstrategier förekommer i det undersökta materialet. Genom att visa hur diagram används som kommunikationsresurs så argumenterar studien för att fortsatt forskning behövs för att undersöka hur diagram, likt mer utforskade visuella format såsom grafer och fotografier, bidrar till företags legitimeringsretorik i externt publicerad redovisningskommunikation, samt att diagram kan fungera som viktiga resurser för självrepresentation i företags redovisningsprocess.

Dessutom föreslås, baserat på longitudinella och jämförande exempel, att självrepresentationer i ökande grad relaterar till abstrakta snarare än konkreta referenter. Denna förändring diskuteras i termer av en alltmer digital och tjänstebaserad kunskapsekonomi, där materiella referenter överges till förmån för ”amateriella” värden. Studiens bidrag är att beskriva själv-representationer genom flera empiriska exempel, och att därmed öka medvetenheten hos praktiker och forskare om hur visuella format kan tjäna legitimeringssyften i kontexten redovisning. Baserat på studiens analys och resonemang lyfts fyra begrepp fram för att förklara den observerade utvecklingen, samt för att bidra till att förbättra praktikers såväl som forskares ”visuella läskunnighet”: ett inkluderande perspektiv på externt publicerad information, amaterialitet, självrepresentation, och diagram. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2017. p. 92
Series
Linköping Studies in Science and Technology. Thesis, ISSN 0280-7971 ; 1792Dissertation from the Swedish Research School of Management and Information Technology (MIT). Licentiate theses, ISSN 1653-2554 ; 46
Keywords
visual research, self-representation, diagrams, accounting narrative, corporate reporting, public disclosure, business models, semiotics, annual report, Ericsson, visuell forskning, visuella metoder, självrepresentation, diagram, externredovisning, affärsmodell, semiotik, årsredovisning, Ericsson
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Economic Information Systems
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-142406 (URN)10.3384/lic.diva-142406 (DOI)9789176853986 (ISBN)
Presentation
2017-11-07, TE-huset (2C:841), Entrance 19, A house., Campus Valla, Linköping, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-10-30 Created: 2017-10-30 Last updated: 2019-11-26Bibliographically approved

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