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The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the socio-political role of materiality assessment in sustainability reporting literature and discuss the potential of materiality assessment to advance more inclusive accounting and reporting practices, in particular critical dialogic accounting.Design/methodology/approachDrawing on literature on the concept of materiality together with insights from stakeholder engagement, commensuration and critical dialogic accounting the paper analyses disclosure on materiality in sustainability reports. Empirically, qualitative content analysis is used to analyse 44 sustainability reports from the leading companies.FindingsThe authors argue that, first, the technic-rational approach to materiality portrays the assessment as a neutral and value-free measurement, and second, the materiality matrix presents the multiple stakeholders as having a unified understanding of what is considered important in corporate sustainability. Thus, the technic-rational approach to the materiality assessment, reinforced with the use of the matrix is a value-laden judgement of what matters in corporate sustainability and narrows down rather than opens up the complexity of the assessment of material sustainability issues, stakeholder engagement and the societal pursuit of sustainable development.Originality/valueThe understandings and implications of the concept of materiality are ambiguous and wide-reaching, as, through constituting the legitimised set of claims and information on corporate sustainable performance, it impacts our understanding of sustainable development at large, and affects the corporate and policy-level transition towards sustainability. Exploring insights from critical dialogic accounting help us to elaborate on the conceptions and practical implications of materiality assessment that enhance stakeholder engagement in a democratic, rather than managerial, spirit.
Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jun 18, 2019
Keywords: Sustainability reporting; Sustainable development; Stakeholder engagement; Materiality; Critical dialogic accounting
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