University of Tasmania
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A multimodal Goffmanian analysis of impression management behaviour in the annual reports of listed Australian companies

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posted on 2023-05-26, 04:14 authored by Hrasky, SL
The major objective of this research is to contribute to the academic literature by developing a comprehensive multi-modal framework to document the impression management strategies that might underpin the narrative and visual material voluntarily included in corporate annual reports. The analysis takes as its starting point the seminal work of Goffman [1959] into self-presentation, widely acknowledged as the first comprehensive exposition of the sociological phenomenon of impression management. The eight elements identified by Goffman in his dramaturgical description of impression management performances are presented as an integrated conceptual model from which such behaviour can be analysed. Using a meso-paradigmatic approach, propositions are developed which underpin a multi-level theory explaining how micro-level incentives motivate individual organisational members to engage collectively in impression management behaviour at a meso (team) level to produce macro-level organisational phenomena such as organisational image or reputation. Prior research into impression management and organisational phenomena has typically either anthropomorphised the organisation or employed a personification metaphor in which the organisation is equated to an individual to facilitate analysis. Neither of these approaches, both of which lack empirical validity, is utilised here because the view articulated in the multi-level theory is one of the organisation as a coalition of individual actors, working collectively to produce what observers perceive as the actions or outcomes of the organisation. Focus then narrows to the use of the corporate annual report as a strategic impression management instrument. The approach adopted is holistic and multi-modal because, as Goffman [1959] clearly articulated, impression management performances are of this nature. In the context of annual reporting, it is the combination of narrative and visual report content that represents the elements of the impression management performance. However, the question of whether mutually supportive narrative and visual strategies are adopted within and across the various sections and subsections of the annual reports has been largely ignored. As such, any understanding of impression management activity in annual reports is partial at best, and it may be the case that behaviour has been misunderstood or misinterpreted. To facilitate the required holistic view, an integrated framework of mutually supportive rhetorical elements for narrative and visual annual report content is developed. This forms the basis from which three exploratory research questions are formulated. Case study analysis of the reporting practices of five large listed Australian companies is presented to explore these research questions. The evidence suggests that, on the whole, the nature of voluntary disclosure in the annual reports studied is consistent with the staging of a holistic impression management performance in the Goffmanian sense.


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