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Legitimacy as a Multi-level Judgment: Experimental Evidence

English title Legitimacy as a Multi-level Judgment: Experimental Evidence
Applicant Haack Patrick
Number 182178
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Département de Stratégie Faculté des HEC - Internef Université de Lausanne
Institution of higher education University of Lausanne - LA
Main discipline Science of management
Start/End 01.10.2019 - 30.09.2023
Approved amount 304'658.00
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All Disciplines (5)

Science of management
Political science
Communication sciences

Keywords (4)

Legitimacy ; Institutional Theory ; Experimental Research; Responsible Business Initiative

Lay Summary (German)

Eine experimentelle Überprüfung der Interdependenz von individuellen Legitimitätseinschätzungen und kollektiver Legitimität
Lay summary

Das Forschungsprojekt ist im Kontext der organisationalen Legitimitätsforschung angesiedelt. Legitimität wird allgemein als gesellschaftliche Akzeptanz definiert, und die bestehende Forschung konzeptionalisiert Legitimtät als kollektives Konstrukt das unabhängig von individuellen Legitimitätseinschätzungen ist. In drei experimentellen Teilprojekten untersuchen wir die Interdependenz von individuellen Legitimitätseinschätzungen und kollektiver Legitimität. Das fokale Legitimitätsobjekt der Studien bildet hierbei die Konzernverantwortungsinitative. Das Ziel der Initiative ist die Einführung einer Sorgfaltspflicht für Schweizer Konzerne. Gegenstand der Sorgfaltspflicht ist es, zu überprüfen, ob durch Konzerntätigkeiten im Ausland Menschenrechte und Umweltstandards verletzt werden. Das Forschungsprojekt macht einen wichtigen Beitrag zur Legitimtätsforschung, indem es die Beziehung zwischen individueller und kollektiver Legititimtät im Kontext der Konzernverantwortungsinitiative untersucht. Da Legitimität nicht nur eines der Kernkonzepte der Institutionentheorie ist, sondern auch als entscheidend für das Wachstum und Überleben von Organisationen betrachtet werden kann, werden die Projektergebnisse nicht nur für Legitimitätswissenschaftler, sondern auch für eine breitere Gruppe von Management- und Organisationswissenschaftler von Interesse sein. Der Fokus auf die Konzernverantwortungsinitative und die Rolle von Menschenrechten für Firmen ist darüber hinaus von aktueller wirtschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Relevanz.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 20.09.2019

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Name Institute

Project partner

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
154735 The communicative construction of legitimacy in transnational governance: The case of the UN Global Compact 01.04.2014 International short research visits
133414 Arguing away the legitimacy gap in global governance? Public deliberation and the politicization of the firm 01.12.2010 Fellowships for prospective researchers


Legitimacy is one of the central concepts in institutional analysis and serves as the anchor point of a vastly expanded theoretical apparatus. Past research has commonly referred to legitimacy as a “generalized perception or assumption that the actions of an entity are desirable, proper, or appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions” (Suchman, 1995: 574). An understanding of legitimacy as “generalized perception” is based on the degree to which a legitimacy object gains collective approval that is created subjectively in processes of social construction. Generalized perceptions, however, derive from the coalescence of individual perceptions that develop in the eye of the beholder; that is, in the psyche of individuals. Thus, the collective-level approval of a legitimacy object depends on the aggregation of individual judgments and the behavioral reactions that follow from these judgments. Scholars have therefore argued that legitimacy can be viewed as an ongoing process of social judgment formation and assumed that this process is multi-level, in the sense that legitimacy judgments occur simultaneously at the collective level, where perceptions of appropriateness are created, shared, and validated, and at the level of the individual, who uses collective perceptions to derive his or her judgment and engage in appropriate action (Johnson, Dowd, & Ridgeway, 2006).The research project seeks to advance the multi-level analysis of legitimacy by drawing on recent conceptual work which has differentiated the legitimacy construct into propriety and validity (Bitektine & Haack, 2015). “Validity” refers to the construal of appropriateness on the collective level, i.e. by a group as a whole. In comparison, “propriety” refers to the individual-level construal of legitimacy, that is, to a single person’s perception of the qualities and actions of a legitimacy object that are appropriate to the object’s social context. The research project will be composed of three sub-projects which apply an experimental approach to enhance our understanding of the relationship between propriety and validity. Specifically, the first sub-project seeks to examine how beliefs about validity influence beliefs about propriety. We suggest that legitimacy objects that are considered valid have a bolstering effect on propriety and a “cancelling effect” on impropriety. We furthermore suggest that these effects will be stronger for individuals influenced by conformity and that the impact of validity beliefs on propriety is contingent on the perceived consensus for those judgments. The second sub-project seeks to elaborate the conditions under which communication objectifies validity beliefs (constituting validity) and silences incongruent propriety beliefs. This sub-project will draw on the experimental test of structured discussions or “deliberations” to shed light on the objectifica-tion/deobjectification process. The third sub-project examines how and why validity and propriety beliefs enable some stories to develop and persist over time while others fall out of favour. The third sub-project thus adds an important temporal element to the previous two sub-projects. The research projects contributes to legitimacy research by complementing extant conceptual knowledge with the experimental examination of the propriety-validity relationship. This research project is therefore a critical step to build upon and extend conceptual insights from previous research on legitimacy as a collective-level phenomenon. Given that legitimacy is not only one of the core concepts in institutional theory, but is also widely recognized as decisive for the growth and survival of organizations, the project results will be of relevance not only for legitimacy scholars but also for the broader audience of management and organization science scholars.