Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 108, Issue 1, pp 101–120 | Cite as

Using Discourse to Restore Organisational Legitimacy: ‘CEO-speak’ After an Incident in a German Nuclear Power Plant

  • Annika Beelitz
  • Doris M. Merkl-DaviesEmail author


We analyse managerial discourse in corporate communication (‘CEO-speak’) during a 6-month period following a legitimacy-threatening event in the form of an incident in a German nuclear power plant. As discourses express specific stances expressed by a group of people who share particular beliefs and values, they constitute an important means of restoring organisational legitimacy when social rules and norms have been violated. Using an analytical framework based on legitimacy as a process of reciprocal sense-making and consisting of three levels of analysis which capture the relationship between text and context, we investigate the discourse used by CEOs in their initial and subsequent accounts of the incident. We find that CEOs aim to negotiate a resolution between their initial account and organisational audiences’ incongruent interpretations of the event by adopting an ad hoc normative attitude to stakeholders. This manifests itself in the strategic use of the discourse of stakeholder engagement as a means of signalling change, yet maintaining the status quo. It suggests that CEOs strategically use discourse to manufacture organisational audiences’ consent regarding the continued operation of the nuclear power plant affected by the incident. Our findings contribute to the critical corporate communication literature which regards corporate narrative reporting as a means of consolidating the private interests of corporations, rather than increasing transparency and accountability.


Legitimacy Impression management Nuclear industry Discourse Stakeholder management 



The authors acknowledge the helpful comments of the participants of the research seminar at the University of Exeter Business School on 1st April 2011, the participants of the Irish Accounting & Finance Association Conference at the University College Cork on 28 April 2011, Niamh Brennan from University College Dublin, and the two anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bangor Business SchoolBangor UniversityBangorUK

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