Handbook of Research on Competitive Strategy
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Handbook of Research on Competitive Strategy

Edited by Giovanni Battista Dagnino

The Handbook of Research on Competitive Strategy presents a comprehensive state-of-the-art picture of current strategic management issues and demarcates the major investigation strands that are likely to shape the field into the future.
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Chapter 19: Semiotic Methods and the Meaning of Strategy in Firm Annual Reports

Maria Cristina Cinici and Roger L.M. Dunbar


Maria Cristina Cinici and Roger L.M. Dunbar This chapter explores the reasons why the research methods inspired by semiotics, i.e. the study of the principles of signification (Saussure, 1916), can be conceived as useful tools in the field of competitive strategy.1 It specifically concerns written strategy, although we are aware that semiotics is interested in every kind of text (both oral and written) and applies “in any system of signs, whatever their substance and limits; images, gestures, musical sounds, objects, and the complex associations of all of these, which form the content of ritual, convention or public entertainment. These constitute, if not languages, at least systems of signification” (Barthes, 1967: 9). This research analyses written competitive strategy as it is described in firms’ annual reports to shareholders. Annual reports provide updates on firm activities and results over a specific time period and deliver information about what a firm has achieved, what it is trying to achieve, and how it is going about achieving it. They do so by presenting a letter by the chairperson explaining the firm’s behavior, financial reports, discussions and analyses of these reports, and general information about the firm’s facilities and activities. An annual report is intended to help shareholders figure out firm strategy as well as monitor and assess the agency relationship that they have with the firm’s board of directors and top management (Jensen and Meckling, 1976). Top management prepares an annual report to satisfy a legal requirement and to persuade shareholders that, as agents,...

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