Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 95, Issue 1, pp 1–21 | Cite as

The Paradox and Constraints of Legitimacy

  • Karan Sonpar
  • Federica Pazzaglia
  • Jurgita Kornijenko
Article

Abstract

This article contributes to the literature on legitimacy by highlighting its paradox and constraints. While an optimal level of legitimacy-seeking behaviours may be necessary for organizational effectiveness, an excessive focus on legitimacy may lead to stakeholder mismanagement and have the opposite effect. These insights emerged from a longitudinal qualitative study of large-scale changes in public-sector health care in a Canadian province (1994–2002). In 1994, subordinate health care organizations underwent government-driven reforms to promote market-based logics of efficiency and cost reduction. Initial years post reforms were characterized by a singular focus on government-driven priorities and inattention to other stakeholders. However, instead of giving benefits of legitimacy, these behaviours led to anger and activism from non-institutional stakeholders such as staff and community due to a decline in quality and patient satisfaction. Eventually, greater attention to stakeholder concerns ended the stand-off. These findings also elaborate Suchman’s (Academy of Management Review 20(3), 571–610, 1995) framework on legitimacy and explain that legitimacy may occur for reasons other than institutionalization of values and be temporary in nature.

Keywords

legitimacy change stakeholder theory institutional theory qualitative study 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karan Sonpar
    • 1
  • Federica Pazzaglia
    • 1
  • Jurgita Kornijenko
    • 2
  1. 1.University College DublinDublinIreland
  2. 2.University of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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