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Communication strategies in financial disclosure


Communication is concerned with “messages, information, meaning, and symbolic activity” (Putnam and Cheney, 1985, p. 131) and affects every aspect of our daily lives. It produces our matrix of appreciation and perception as it determines how we make sense of the world around us and how we perceive ourselves and others. It is both constitutive and a product of social relationships. For any business organisation, communication thus plays a crucial role in managing relations with external parties via reporting on the outcomes of its activities. Corporate reporting is one of the primary means whereby managers communicate with investors and other stakeholders. Managers provide an account to investors and other stakeholders of the financial and other performance of their company in order to legitimize their actions. The course focuses in particular on rhetorical i.e. persuasive strategies that can be observed in corporate disclosures produced by the companies. The attention is also given to the regulatory aspect of financial disclosure requirements and rhetorical or discursive strategies that affect regulatory processes that determine what accounting information is reported on.

The course explores relevant theoretical frameworks as well as having a strong practical element, using real-world examples and illustrations from the corporate and accounting regulatory world. It addresses corporate reporting from the perspective of communication strategies used by managers and accounting regulators to legitimize their actions. It also discusses the often overlooked importance of cognitive biases in the communication processes.

The main objective of the course is to explore why communication within corporate reporting is worthy of careful scrutiny, not just in what social actors say, but how they say it and the legitimation strategies they use.

Outline of the syllabus

  1. The different types of corporate reports and the evolution of corporate reporting
  2. The institutional stakeholders/players inhabiting the field in which corporate reports are produced and (some) of the controversies over time.
  3. An introduction to rhetoric and how rhetorical strategies are applied in all aspects of life but in particular how they are used in corporate reporting.
  4. The increasing variety of financial and non-financial disclosures in corporate reports and why narratives are as important as the numbers.
  5. How corporate reports are consumed by investors/stakeholders in a changing world. The evolution from investing to trading to gambling and how information facilitates transactions.
  6. The regulatory infrastructure of corporate reports, the role of the accounting bodies and the accountants who act as implementers and interpreters of corporate disclosures.
  7. The role of rhetorical strategies in legitimation processes; a contestation for the right to name and define what is ‘good’ corporate reporting.
  8. Economic rationality versus behavioral economics: how cognitive biases shape how we perceive and act within the world and the impact they have upon communication strategies.
  9. Communication strategies that are adapted when crises of legitimacy arise.

Teaching method
In addition to attending classes, students will be expected to give presentations on the relevant topics and read both academic & professional accounting articles. The reading list will be provided prior to the commencement of the course in December. The course assessment will be based on in class presentation (50%) and assignment (50%).



Stenka R.

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