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Contesting Organisational Controversies:Critical Case Studies in Communication and Accountability

Guest Editors
Markus J. Milne markus.milne@canterbury.ac.nz (Canterbury, New Zealand)
Helen Tregidga helen.tregidga@rhul.ac.uk  (RHUL, UK)
Matias Laine matias.laine@staff.uta.fi (Tampere, Finland)

1st Call for Papers
In this special issue we seek rich, contextually informed, critical case studies of organisational communication and accountability. Our aim is to generate a body of work from a variety of studies that investigate the ways and means in which different organisations, and other actors, use communication to shape and respond to controversial issues: issues in which claims and counter-claims are hotly contested and disputed.  In doing so we seek to build on and extend the growing, but still limited, work on contested organisational controversies within the field of sustainability, accounting, management and policy (see, for examples, Adams, 2004; Milne, Tregidga & Walton, 2009; Laine, 2009; Brennan & Merkl-Davies, 2014; Ferguson et al., 2016; Joutsenvirta, 2009; Killian, 2010; Livesey, 2002; Sikka & Willmott, 2013; Thomson et al., 2015; Walton, 2007).  In particular, however, we are interested in work that seeks to critically investigate ‘slow burning’ issues rather than controversial crises like accidents and discrete events. Such issues are broad and include environmental, social and/or economic dimensions.  Examples might include:

  • Oil Extraction, Deep-sea, Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) and pollution
  • Fast food and obesity
  • Gambling, tobacco, alcohol and addiction
  • Agro chemical manufacture and use, and bee health.
  • Airlines, aircraft manufacture, airports and climate change
  • Fishing and over-exploitation of the oceans
  • Fossil fuels and climate change
  • Access to fresh water, privatisation, agricultural intensification
  • Corporate lobbying and regulatory capture (e.g. climate change, water use, wages and conditions, health and safety
  • Manufacturing, human rights and specific work conditions
  • The offshoring and/or outsourcing of work and/or responsibilities
  • Modern slavery and precarious work
  • Tax payment and tax avoidance
  • Wage relations, minimum wage and the living wage

This list is not exhaustive, but a key point is that such issues contain within them contested knowledge, and often, particularly in the case of environmental contestations, uncertain or disputed scientific knowledge, which form the basis for contest between organisations, their associations, activists and social movements, regulators and politicians, and others. In short, such issues become politicised, and communication strategies are core to that process.  In many issues, we see a need to focus on the ideological elements of organisational communication and counter-communication.

While we have no wish to prescribe research approaches and methods, we are seeking studies that squarely focus on the particular construction of knowledge and identities that form the core of the ‘contested issue’. It should also be a given that we are seeking historically and contextually informed case studies. However, we have no particular preference for how such studies might be theoretically informed, or indeed if they are theoretically informed at all. Similarly, we have no particular desire to direct research questions. Such questions may focus on the use of language and signs to construct or deconstruct knowledge or identities, and/or it may focus on how communication is used to build or break-up coalitions and consolidate power bases. Again, it should be clear we are open to the full array of theories and questions that might be brought to bear on the critical investigation of issues that are inherently controversial, contested and hence political.          


  • Manuscripts submissions should be made via the SAMPJ Scholar One Manuscripts selecting the special issue from the list
  • Please check the author guidelines before submitting
  • The guest editors welcome enquiries and declarations of interest in submitting
  • All papers will be reviewed in accordance with SAMPJ's normal processes.


  • Workshop for papers: Sept 2017 (TBA)
  • Deadline for Submission of papers to SAMPJ: 30 April 2018
  • Publication of Special Issue: 2019


Adams, C. A. (2004). The ethical, social and environmental reporting-performance portrayal gap. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 17(5), 731-757.
Brennan, N., & Merkl-Davies, D. (2014). Rhetoric and argument in social and environmental reporting: the Dirty Laundry case. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 27 (4): 602-633.
Ferguson, J., Sales de Aguiar, T. R., & Fearfull, A. (2016). Corporate response to climate change: language, power and symbolic construction. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 29(2), 278-304.
Joutsenvirta, M. (2009). A language perspective to environmental management and corporate responsibility. Business Strategy and the Environment, 18 (4): 240-253.
Killian, S. (2010).  “No accounting for these people”: Shell in Ireland and accounting language. Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 21 (8): 711-723.
Laine, M. (2009). Ensuring legitimacy through rhetorical changes? A longitudinal interpretation of the environmental disclosures of a leading Finnish chemical company. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 22(7), 1029-1054.
Livesey, S. (2002). Global warming wars: Rhetorical and discourse analytical approaches to ExxonMobil’s corporate public discourse. The Journal of Business Communication, 39 (1): 117-148.
Milne, M. J., Tregidga, H., & Walton, S. (2009). Words not actions! The ideological role of sustainable development reporting. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 22(8), 1211-1257.
Sikka, P. & Willmott, H. (2013). The tax avoidance industry: accountancy firms on the make. Critical Perspectives on International Business, 9 (4): 415-443.
Thomson, I., Dey, C., & Russell, S. (2015). Activism, arenas and accounts in conflicts over tobacco control. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 28 (5): 809-845.
Walton, S. (2007).  Site the mine in our backyard! Discursive strategies of community stakeholders in an environmental conflict in New Zealand. Organization and Environment, 20 (2): 177-203.