"Materiality is...": Sensemaking and Sensegiving through Storytelling

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Purpose – To explore the role and implications of storytelling and narrative as a means of making sense of, and giving sense to, the ambiguous concept of materiality.
Design/methodology/approach – The use of stories was ‘discovered’ through the authors’ attempts to ‘make sense’ of data from sixteen interviews with participants from the financial and nonfinancial reporting and assurance contexts. We analyse the participants’ use of stories through a sensemaking/sensegiving lens.
Findings – While participants struggle to define what materiality is¸ they are able to tell ‘stories’ about materiality in action. We find stories are a key vehicle through which participants make sense of and give sense to materiality, for themselves and (an)other. Participants tell three types of stories in sensemaking/sensegiving processes: the lived, the adopted, and the hypothetical. We further identify ‘rehearsed’ and ‘ongoing’ narratives, which take any of the three story types. The use of stories to make and give sense to materiality reveals a disconnect between the static, technical definitions of materiality currently favoured by standard setters and guidance providers, and the creative authoring processes the participants employ.
Practical implications –We argue for a move towards the use of stories and narratives about materiality in standard setting, specifically ‘materiality in action’, which our findings suggest may assist in creating shared understandings of the ambiguous concept.
Originality/value – While previous research considers what materiality means within financial and nonfinancial reporting and assurance contexts, we empirically analyse how people understand and make sense/give sense to materiality. We also contribute to the use of sensemaking/sensegiving processes within the accounting literature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-427
Number of pages25
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number1
Early online date23 Mar 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Mar 2022


  • sensemaking and sensegiving; storytelling; materiality

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