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Social and environmental reporting in the UK: a pedagogic evaluation

Bebbington, J. and Thomson, Ian (2005) Social and environmental reporting in the UK: a pedagogic evaluation. Critical Perspectives On Accounting, 16 (5). pp. 507-533. ISSN 1045-2354

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This paper argues that the provision of accounts of and by organisations can be viewed as being a process of education and is thus amenable to a pedagogic assessment. In providing accounts about their activities, organisations are educating those internal and external to their organisation about 'events' which have previously been unknown or incompletely known to 'account audiences'. As a result, a changed perception of the organisation, the 'events' described or some other change in understanding may emerge. Taking this premise as a starting point, this paper seeks to explore how social and environmental reporting (hereafter SER) may be evaluated from a pedagogic perspective. In undertaking this task, the paper draws extensively (but not exclusively) on the work of Paulo Freire (primarily [Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Pelican, London, 1996]). We argue that Freire's work is relevant to the evaluation of SER because Freire focuses on the critical and emancipatory possibilities of education. In a similar vein, proponents of SER suggest that it provides some possibilities for emancipatory change (see, for example, [Acc. Aud. Accountability J. 10 (3) (1997) 365; Accounts of and accounting for sustainable development, University of Dundee, Dundee, 1999; Acc. Organisations Society 17 (5) (1992) 399; Asia-Pacific J. Acc. 4 (2) (1997) 175; Environmental Law and Ecological Responsibility: The Concept and Practice of Ecological Self-Organization, Wiley, London, 1994]). Evaluating SER through the lens of Freire's work sheds light on the robustness of these claims. In addition, we use Freire's conception of what constitutes an emancipatory pedagogy to evaluate the processes by which organisations create social, environmental and sustainable development reports and the reports themselves.