Civil Society Organizations: the Site of Legitimizing the Common Good—a Literature Review

  • Liv EgholmEmail author
  • Liesbet Heyse
  • Damien Mourey
Original Paper


The concept of legitimacy—i.e., being regarded as “lawful, admissible, and justified” (Edwards in NGO rights and responsibilities: a new deal for global governance, The Foreign Policy Center, London, 2000)—is pivotal within civil society research. Recently, the concept has applied to wider notions concerning the civil sphere and civic action. The introductory article of this special issue aims to provide an overview of conceptualizations of legitimacy within civil society research and to point at new avenues for future research. We depart from Suddaby et al.’s (Acad Manag Ann 11(1):451–478, 2017) configurations of legitimacy within management literature: as property, perception, and process. While these configurations are also reflected in civil society literature, with legitimacy as property being prominent, they do not capture the full scope of civil society literature on legitimacy, given its multidisciplinary nature, its inclusion of multiple levels of analysis, and the presence of complementary conceptualizations of legitimacy. We posit that the legitimacy-as-relations-in-processes perspective is valuable for advancing research in civil society organizations.


Civil society Legitimacy Literature review Non profit sector Accountability 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© International Society for Third-Sector Research 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management, Politic & PhilosophyCopenhagen Business SchoolFrederiksbergDenmark
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Paris-Saclay - Laboratoire IDHESEcole Normale SupérieureParisFrance

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