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Talking the Walk: The Deflation Response to Legitimacy Challenges

Whelan, Glen; De Bakker, Frank; Muthuri, Judy


Glen Whelan

Frank De Bakker

Professor of Sustainable Business and Development


Organizations need legitimacy to be able to operate effectively. Consequently, and just like their participants, Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives (MSIs) need to respond when faced with legitimacy challenges from external parties. We build on current theory to identify three organizational elements that can be made the subject of legitimacy critique – i.e., statutory procedures, objectives, mechanisms – and use these elements to structure our analysis of a conflict-ridden case concerning the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). Whereas prior work suggests that organizations can respond to such conflicts in a fashion consistent with either moral entrapment or decoupling, we show that organizations can also respond by deflating their statutory procedures and objectives. A deflationary response can help organizations maintain their validity by diminishing the ability of external parties to advance propriety legitimacy critiques against them. By examining this alternative response, we expand the scope and refine the analytic detail by which organizational legitimacy conflicts can be investigated


Whelan, G., De Bakker, F., & Muthuri, J. (2019). Talking the Walk: The Deflation Response to Legitimacy Challenges. Management, 22(4), 636-663

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 9, 2019
Online Publication Date Dec 31, 2019
Publication Date 2019
Deposit Date Jun 18, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jun 20, 2019
Electronic ISSN 1429-9321
Publisher De Gruyter
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 22
Issue 4
Pages 636-663
Keywords Conflict; Deflation; Legitimacy; Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives; United Nations Global Compact.
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