Organizing dissonance through institutional work: the embedding of social and environmental accountability in an investment field

Conor Clune, Brendan O'Dwyer

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Advocacy movements play an increasingly prominent role in shaping corporate social responsibility (CSR) management and reporting practices. Prior research mainly studies advocacy movements who form and operate on the periphery of the organizational field(s) they seek to alter. We know comparatively little about how these movements materialize within fields and use established field networks, resources and power structures to transform CSR and CSR reporting norms. This paper examines how an advocacy movement formed and evolved within the Dutch investment field to embed a suite of social and environmental accountability mechanisms therein. We examine the evolution of VBDO, a membership association which promotes and polices corporate accountability among Dutch listed companies and investment institutions. We depict how a movement of diverse actors materialized in and around VBDO to stimulate responsible investment and sophisticated CSR reporting in the investment field. Insights from social movement theory and institutional work are integrated with Stark’s (2009) concept of organizing dissonance to theorise the conditions underpinning the movement’s emergence and influence. We uncover how rankings work - the co-creation, dissemination and policing of CSR benchmarks - and (institutional) work censorship - the strategic self-censoring of institutional work - coalesced to cultivate constructive collaborations among movement actors. We show how this enabled the creation of accountability mechanisms that facilitated VBDO’s transition into an influential and unique boundary organization. Our analysis extends prior research by revealing the role of institutional work in cultivating cooperation between advocacy movements and the targets of their reforms. By illustrating how actors’ opposing value frames co-existed peacefully as VBDO’s accountability mechanisms evolved, we offer a counterpoint to studies suggesting that compromise underpins the organization of dissonance among actors constructing corporate accounts.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101130
JournalAccounting, Organizations and Society
Issue number0
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2020


  • advocacy, benchmarks, boundary organization, corporate accountability, corporate social responsibility, CSR, dissonance, institutional work, rankings, social movements, sustainability


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