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Exploring metaphors of capitals and the framing of multiple capitals: challenges and opportunities for IR

Coulson, A.; Adams, C.; Nugent, M.; Haynes, K.

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A. Coulson

M. Nugent

K. Haynes


Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore the potential of the metaphor of capital, and to chart the development of the multiple capitals concept in the International <IR> Framework and consider how it might develop and be used. In doing so the paper discusses the implications of the contributions to this special issue in the further development of the capitals concept. Design/methodology/approach We draw on documents of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) and review the literature on capitals to consider the formation of the metaphor of multiple capitals. This is reflected upon while recognising the varied involvement of the authors with the IIRC capitals conception. The challenges of conceiving a multiple capitals framework are critiqued with reference to empirical and theoretical contributions drawn from recognition of planetary boundaries, gendered capitals, power and intersection of capitals, and important practical and conceptual insights raised by papers in this special issue. Findings We find that the agenda of the IIRC is a shift from a “financial capital market system” to an “inclusive capital market system” through recognition of multiple capitals and integrated reporting and thinking. It is emphasised that their vision is not intended as a call for the measurement of these various capitals in monetary terms alone. Through insights from research on planetary boundaries and gendered capitals, we critique the potential communsurability of capitals and make visible potential tensions between them. Some of the challenges and opportunities when reporting on multiple capitals are recognised. These include: use of the capitals terminology; analysing connectivity between the capitals; the extent to which value created (and depleted) by each capital should be monetized and highlight possibilities for future research. Practical implications Reflecting on the vision of the IIRC, we use the critical potential of the metaphor to highlight the IIRC’s vision and understanding of the role of multiple capitals and potential tensions between them. We provide normative insights into the need for engagement on the philosophies of integrated thinking and symbolism of capital and multiple capitals as the way forward. Originality/value It is through discussions around multiple capitals – what is in, what is out, how capital is valued – that metaphors will be (re)created. By considering the notion of capital in <IR> and critiquing this with reference to research insights we seek to open up debate on the framing of multiple capitals.


Coulson, A., Adams, C., Nugent, M., & Haynes, K. (2015). Exploring metaphors of capitals and the framing of multiple capitals: challenges and opportunities for IR. Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, 6(3), 290-314.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 4, 2015
Online Publication Date Sep 7, 2015
Publication Date Sep 1, 2015
Deposit Date Jun 7, 2015
Publicly Available Date Jun 26, 2015
Journal Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 6
Issue 3
Pages 290-314
Public URL


Accepted Journal Article (564 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This article is &copy; Emerald Group Publishing and permission has been granted for this version to appear here Emerald does not grant permission for this article to be further copied/distributed or hosted elsewhere without the express permission from Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

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