Microfoundations of accountability


Organisational and institutional accountability research has been topical for several years. Researchers have addressed policies and practices promoted by national and transnational actors (Grossi et al., 2020; Murphy and Albu, 2018), civil society (Lehman and Morton, 2017), explored the institutionalisation and diffusion of new practices (including sustainability reporting, see Contrafatto, 2014; de Villiers et al., 2014; Rinaldi et al., 2018; Tregidga et al., 2014) and identified sites (Parker and Jeacle, 2019), styles (Ahrens, 1996) and limits (Messner, 2009) of accountability.

However, the mechanisms driving organisational and institutional accountability also operate at the micro-level, and their influence on activating the collective construct of accountability is yet unknown. While macro theories have provided notable insights into the broader motivations behind adopting forms of accountability, they cannot fully explain how adoption happens and why accountability endures, develops or fails.

The concept of microfoundations has gained traction in recent years as researchers have recognised the importance of understanding the individual-level processes that underlie the functioning of organisations and institutions. For example, organisational and management scholars have explored the microfoundations of specific processes, such as routines and capabilities (Felin et al., 2012; Winter, 2013), dynamic capabilities (Nayak et al., 2020), and markets and institutions (De Ven and Lifschitz, 2013). Accounting scholars are starting to contribute to developing the microfoundational approach (Power, 2021; Rautiainen, et al., 2022), however, accounting and accountability research has yet to fully embrace this level of analysis. Thus, it is unknown how modern – and even possibly conflicting – conceptions of accountability, including financial, sustainability, social, digital and technological elements, are aligned and influenced by feelings, cognitive dissonances, or other micro-level phenomena over (recent turbulent) time.

This special issue aims to deepen our understanding of the microfoundations of accountability. According to Felin et al. (2012), a microfoundational approach is concerned with how mechanisms of causality unfold between and within organisational or institutional levels and can be clustered into three core or overarching categories: 

  • INDIVIDUALS: the role of individuals is key to understanding the creation and development of collective constructs such as accountability. For example, individual-level components such as ability, motivation, perception, personality, values, ethics, satisfaction and cognition are important constituents for understanding collective phenomena.

  • PROCESSES: explanations of collective phenomena require consideration of the historical and contextual factors involved in the operation of accountability processes for two main reasons. First, putting processes into action requires the intervention of individuals. Second, the interactions between processes and individuals with their motivations, preferences, and attitudes shape accountability outcomes.  

  • STRUCTURES: structures specify the conditions that enable and constrain individual and collective action and establish the context for interactions within organisations and institutions. For example, differences in the design of the decision-making activities (such as rules and procedures) have an important effect on accountability (Roberts, 1991). 


The interactions of individuals, processes, and structures contribute to the aggregation and emergence of the collective construct of accountability. Given the complexity and incalculability of modern challenges, recent accounting studies have emphasised the need for refined theorisation and methodological sophistication. 

This special issue aims to act as a focus for research providing a more granular understanding of the individual-level processes that drive collective accountability phenomena by illuminating a multilevel conceptualisation of accountability processes. The special issue will prioritise papers that take a micro-level approach, for example, examining the core questions that cut across organisational and institutional accountability practices and shed light on causal mechanisms and the key links between individuals, processes and structures while analysing specific accountability-related questions.

List of topic areas

We welcome the submission of full papers that address the following and related areas: 

  1. What are the assumptions about the individual nature, choices, abilities, and motivations for organisational or institutional accountability? 

  1. How are the mechanisms underpinning patterns of adoption, diffusion and abandonment of current practices of accountability illuminated by social influences on decision-making? 

  1. How do the choices, abilities, feelings, and motivations of individuals (at micro-level) affect organisational or institutional accountability (at macro-level)?" 

  1. How do individual-level components explain managerial, public or organisational accountability? 

  1. How do individuals establish, engage with, develop and resist accountability processes within organisations and institutions? 

  1. How do microfoundational processes help to explain how accounting, auditing and accountability practices and structures change? 

  1. How do the microfoundations of accountability contribute to explain success and failure in various organizational contexts? 

  1. How do task-, technology- or industry-specific contingencies and parameters (or constraints) interact to explain the heterogeneity of collective phenomena of accountability? 

  1. How do individual-level factors affect the alignment (or non-alignment) of organisational practices with sustainable development goals and broader accountability/sustainability objectives? 

  1. How do accountability processes at the micro-level contribute to enhancing transparency, responsibility, and responsiveness in sustainability reporting and decision-making (also at the societal level)?

We welcome interdisciplinary research applying a wide range of methodological and theoretical approaches to help provide in-depth, novel insights in the above areas.

Submission instructions

Submissions for the AAAJ special issues should be made through Emerald's submission system ScholarOne. Author guidelines must be followed.

Submit via ScholarOne

Author Guidelines 

Key dates

Submissions open: ScholarOne submission for the Special Issue will open on 1 March 2025.  

Submission deadline: full paper submission deadline is 30 April 2025.

AAAJ special issue workshop

To help authors develop their manuscripts for submission, a Workshop linked to this special issue will be held on the 6th July 2024, at Royal Holloway University of London, just after the Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Accounting (IPA) Conference. If you are interested in participating in the workshop, please email the draft of your full paper to Leonardo Rinaldi ([email protected]) by 4th March 2024 (please note the extended deadline). Invited Authors will be notified by 25th March 2024.

Please note: participating in the workshop is not a precondition for submitting a manuscript to the Special Issue. Also, and importantly, the presentation at the workshop does not guarantee acceptance of the paper in the Special Issue.


If you would like to discuss the special issue and your potential contribution, please contact Professor Leonardo Rinaldi at [email protected].

Guest Editors

Leonardo Rinaldi

Royal Holloway, University of London - UK

James Guthrie

Macquarie Business School - Australia

Christopher Napier

Royal Holloway, University of London - UK

Antti Rautiainen

University of Jyväskylä, School of Business and Economics - Finland


Ahrens, T. (1996), “Styles of accountability”, Accounting, Organizations and Society, Vol. 21 No. 2/3, pp. 139-173. 

Contrafatto, M. (2014), “The institutionalization of social and environmental reporting: An Italian narrative”, Accounting, Organizations and Society, Vol. 39 No. 6, pp. 414-432. 

de Villiers, C., Rinaldi, L. and Unerman, J. (2014), “Integrated Reporting: Insights, gaps and an agenda for future research”, Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 27 No. 7, pp. 1042-1067. 

Felin, T., Foss, N. J., Heimeriks, K. H. and Madsen, T. L. (2012), “Microfoundations of Routines and Capabilities: Individuals, Processes, and Structure”, Journal of Management Studies, Vol. 49 No. 8, pp. 1351-1374. 

Grossi, G., Kallio, K-M., Sargiacomo, M. and Skoog, M. (2020), Accounting, performance management systems and accountability changes in knowledge-intensive public organizations: a literature review and research agenda. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 33 No. 1, pp. 256-280. 

Lehman, G. and Morton, E. (2017), “Accountability, corruption and social and environment accounting: Micro-political processes of change”, Accounting Forum, Vol. 41 No. 4, pp. 281-288. 

Messner, M. (2009), “The limits of accountability”, Accounting, Organizations and Society, Vol. 34 No. 8, pp. 918-938. 

Murphy, J. and Albu, O. B. (2018), “The politics of transnational accountability policies and the (re)construction of corruption: The case of Tunisia, Transparency International and the World Bank”, Accounting Forum, Vol. 42 No. 1, pp. 32-46. 

Parker, L. D. and Jeacle, I. (2019), “The Construction of the Efficient Office: Scientific Management, Accountability, and the Neo-Liberal State”, Contemporary Accounting Research, Vol. 36 No. 3, pp. 1883-1926. 

Power, M. (2021), “Modelling the Micro-Foundations of the Audit Society: Organizations and the Logic of the Audit Trail”, Academy of Management Review, Vol. 46 No. 1, pp. 6-32. 

Rautiainen, A., Mättö, T., Sippola, K. and Pellinen, J. O. (2022), “Accounting, microfoundations, hybridization and longitudinal conflict in a Finnish health care organization”, Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 35 No. 3, pp. 863-886. 

Rinaldi, L., Unerman, J. and de Villiers, C. (2018), “Evaluating the integrated reporting journey: insights, gaps and agendas for future research”, Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 31 No. 5, pp. 1294-1318. 

Roberts, J. (1991), “The possibilities of accountability”, Accounting, Organizations and Society, Vol. 16 No. 4, pp. 355-368. 

Tregidga, H., Milne, M. and Kearins, K. (2014), “(Re)presenting 'sustainable organizations'“, Accounting, Organizations and Society, Vol. 39 No. 6, pp. 477-494.