Expanding or defending legitimacy? Why international organizations intensify self-legitimation

Publikation: Beiträge in ZeitschriftenZeitschriftenaufsätzeForschungbegutachtet


Recent decades have seen an intensification of international organizations’ (IOs) attempts to justify their authority. The existing research suggests that IO representatives have scaled up self-legitimation to defend their organizations’ legitimacy in light of public criticism. In contrast, this article demonstrates that IOs intensify self-legitimation to mobilize additional support from relevant audiences when their authority increases. We argue that self-legitimation aims primarily to achieve proactive legitimacy expansion instead of reactive legitimacy protection. We develop this argument in three steps. First, we draw on organizational sociology and management studies to theorize the connection between self-legitimation and an organization’s life stages. Second, we introduce a novel dataset on the self-legitimation of 28 regional IOs between 1980 and 2019 and show that the intensity of self-legitimation evolves in phases. Third, we provide a multivariate statistical analysis and a brief vignette on the African Union, both of which indicate that IOs that shift from unanimity or consensus to majority voting tend to intensify self-legitimation.

ZeitschriftReview of International Organizations
Anzahl der Seiten32
PublikationsstatusElektronische Veröffentlichung vor Drucklegung - 24.07.2023

Bibliographische Notiz

Funding Information:
Previous versions of this article were presented at the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting in September 2022, the International Studies Association Annual Convention in March 2022, and two online workshops on “Life cycles of international cooperation” organized by Julia Gray. We thank the participants, and especially Benjamin Daßler, Daniela Donno, Hylke Dijkstra, Mette Eilstrup-Sangiovanni, Farsan Ghassim, Julia Gray, Tim Heinkelmann-Wild, Stephanie Hofmann, Christoph Mikulaschek, Michal Parizek, Jon Pevehouse, Tyler Pratt, Bernhard Reinsberg, Ueli Staeger, Felicity Vabluas, Inken von Borzyskkowski, Stefanie Walter, and Oliver Westerwinter. Tobias Lenz gratefully acknowledges funding from the Leibniz Association (grant number J31/2017).

Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).