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Lepistö, S., Dobroszek, J., Lepistö, L. and Zarzycka, E. (2020), "Controlling outsourced management accounting to build legitimacy", Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 435-463. -05-2019-0062
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The concept of legitimacy actually helps shed light on the pressures for seeking social approval that are present alongside economic elements and intertwined with them (Scapens and Varoutsa, 2010). Although some institutional literature portrays social approval and economic concerns as somewhat incompatible pressures, leading to decoupling (Carlsson-Wall et al., 2016; Meyer and Rowan, 1977), they are not inherently mutually contradictory. Firstly, both demonstrating economic efficiency and using symbols in line with socially appropriated ways of working affect perceptions and thereby build legitimacy (Meyer and Rowan, 1977). Secondly, while legitimacy may be a way to reach economic and technical goals (Dacin et al., 2007), economic efficiency remains largely socially defined (Meyer and Rowan, 1977), as can be manifested in disparate views on economically appropriate actions. For example, cost savings may become an institutionalised myth contributing to the legitimacy of outsourced accounting (Deephouse and Suchman, 2008; Hyvönen et al., 2012; Scapens and Varoutsa, 2010), with efficiency metrics, therefore, displaying symbolic properties articulating the legitimacy of the actions taken. As legitimacy may be episodic or continual, demonstrating cost savings and cost-efficiency brings only a temporary state of legitimacy: the organisation may achieve the required cost cuts in one accounting period but not another. In contrast, legitimacy arising from adapting to other social norms is of a more long-term nature, as, in contrast to socially approved outcomes, socially approved ways of acting are perceived as producing more consistent socially approved outcomes (Suchman, 1995).