Legitimacy Attainment and Benefits within an Organization Structure

Legitimacy:Attainment and Benefits within an Organization Structure

Numerousorganizational concepts of legitimacy traces back to Max Weber whoposited that legitimate power or authority is closely linked toprudence through organizations. In this regards, most concepts onlegitimacy have built upon and expanded Weber’s primary notionwhile, usually, delivering theoretical focus and convenience to anotherwise comprehensive notion. On the other hand, legitimacy refersto a belief or concept that an institution, leader, unit, or rule hasthe liberty to govern. However, Weber contends that not all forms ofsubmission to an authority by people demonstrates legitimacy since,“It is by no means that true that every case of submissiveness topersons in positions of power is primarily (or even at all) orientedto this belief,” (214). In this regards, the discourse will definelegitimacy, and then look at the way organizations and other forms ofeconomic units acquire legitimacy as well as the benefits theorganizations acquire from legitimacy. The discourse will look atthese issues by comparing and contrasting the works of Weber Bergerand Luckmann Meyer and Rowan Hamilton and Biggart as the maindefining structures of the concept of legitimacy.


Oneof the shortcoming of political science is that it fails to provideclear explanations and conclusions regarding some of the most basicand crucial concepts in the field. One such areas in the disciplinethat has attracted a myriad of definitions of concepts andapplication is legitimacy. More specifically, while studyingorganizations and institutions, many scholars have forwarded theirideology and defined the concepts in a manner that at timescontradicts others’ works, and at times going in line with what hasalready been discussed. One of the biggest contributions to thedebate on legitimacy is by Max Weber and John Meyer, who haveanalyzed it in the context of organizational and institutional myths.These scholars combine their thoughts to describe the elements andapplication of legitimacy through theories of power, beliefs andauthority

Max Weberformulated one of the most precise definitions of legitimacy amongstthe modern scholars. He argued that legitimacy existed when thepeople had a belief that power is just. This definition goes in linewith the definition of the legitimacy according to Berger andLuckman’s principles and Hamilton and Biggart, that the society andsocial orders are purely products of human activity (Trower 72).Burger and Luckman maintains, “Any action that is repeatedfrequently becomes cast into a pattern, which can then be reproducedwith an economy of effort and which is apprehended by its performersas that pattern,” (53). This means that social norms and rules arefabricated, and that the people are made to believe that they arejust and thus must be obeyed. In addition, Hamilton and Biggart offerWeber’s meaning to legitimacy by affirming, “The politicaleconomy approach with a Weberian emphasis produces the bestexplanation of the three (i.e. market, culture, and authorityapproaches,” (53). Therefore, in defining the principles oflegitimacy, belief theory and power theory are common factors amongstthe scholars. On the other hand, Meyer and Rowan focus on legitimacyas a form of social norm, “Legitimacy is a given: assertions aboutbureaucratization rest on the assumption of norms of rationality,”(343). This implies that legitimacy forms on social norms that peoplehave institutionalized as patterns to follow.

Weber sums updomination, power and legitimacy as an integral part of the society,which apply to social and political institutions (212). According toWeber, these three can be summed up into one factor, “authority”.Authority has since grown into the social sciences and become anintegral part of administration and politics. Weber asserts thatauthority occurs because there is a probability that people will becompelled to obey specific commands. In fact, Weber asserts,“Domination was defined above as the probability that certainspecific commands will be obeyed by a given group of persons,”(212). In this regards, authorities tend to establish legitimacy as aconcept that allows domination. Hamilton and Biggart concur withWeber by affirming, “But all organizations, no matter what theirpurpose or historical setting (although related to both), have aninternal pattern of command and compliance,” (75). In fact,Hamilton and Biggart see organizations as existing insofar on aprobability that certain persons will act in a manner that affirmsthe order of an institution (75). Therefore, legitimate authorityoccurs only when the people have to obey the orders of the authoritybecause they regard them as rightful. Weber’s insists on having todifferentiate the difference between legitimate and illegitimateauthority. According to him, legitimate authority occurs when thepeople obey the authority voluntarily, while illegitimate authoritydemands that the people obey the authority, whether voluntarily orinvoluntarily. These principles of authority and legitimacy aresimilar to what Gary Hamilton and Nicole Biggart say. For instance,the East Asian Policy models emerged from state’s needs tolegitimate their authority, instead of concentrating on theauthority’s efficiency. This was the case of the South KoreanState to legitimate its control over the society in order to rebuildthe country and keep its people prepared for military action,following the Korean War (Hamilton and Biggart 53).

Meyer andRowan’s argument about legitimacy reflect the sentiments ofHamilton and Biggart. According to them, institutions are notlegitimate because they neither are efficient in their operations,nor are they legitimate because the actually provide what they say(Hickman 492). Instead, they rarely follow their doctrine, and theybecome legitimized because of the practices that have been reinforcedonto them, and which have little or nothing to do with efficiency.Additionally, Meyer and Rowan’s definition of legitimacy means thatit is determined by external entities (Andrews 70). This is the maindifference between their definition of legitimacy and that of Weber.Weber’s belief theories focus on internal legitimacy. This is theparadigm of legitimacy that is recognized by internal entities,within the organization, institutions or international systems.


According toWeber, organizations can source legitimacy from its three principlepillars, tradition, legality and ideology (Baehr 49 Wacks 174). Infact, Weber asserts that principles have based the validity oflegitimacy on rational grounds, charismatic grounds, and traditionalgrounds (215). Traditional authority is in this light an establishedbelief in the purity of traditions that have a long history withinthe organization. Weber’s traditional authority is therefore a kindof leadership in which a given organization is tied to the customsthat have been practiced for a long time, and which the people havecome to identify as the power within the organization. According toWeber, this tradition does not change over time, is sometimes viewedas irrational and maintains a status quo (215). Secondly, Weber saysthat legal authority is empowered by a formalistic belief in thecontent of the law. This implies that obedience is not limited justto a specific leader, but to all the people in the organization. Thelast source of legitimacy in organization is through charismaticauthority. This kind of legitimacy is instilled in leaders who havethe mission of inspiring the followers in that organization.

Meyer and Rowanhighlight the elements of tradition in acquiring legitimacy.According to them, organizations are compelled to incorporatepractices and procedures that are guided by rationalized conceptswithin its institution (Meyer and Rowan 343 Greenwood, Oliver andSuddabay 597). These are kind of myths or traditions as Weber putsthem, that organizations adopt ceremonially. In fact, Meyer and Rowanmaintains, “As institutionalized myths define new domains ofrationalized activity, formal organizations emerge in these domains,”(345). At the same time, there is a possibility that thesemyths/traditions within an organization can influence efficiency,forcing the authorities to buffer the strategies, as a strategy tominimize any conflict or rebellion within its setting. Thistranslates to Weber’s Charismatic authority, which attaches itselfto inspiring leaders who command devotion from the followers withinthe organization.

From theexamination of the sources of legitimacy within an organization, thispaper proposes that power can equally be an important source oflegitimacy within an organization. This is because power has thecapacity to be politically legitimizing. Looking at governmentsaround the world, it is observed that all derive part of theirauthority from the power they have over their respective citizens. Itall boils down to the means that an organization can use power toconvince the people that its authority is legitimate. There are threemain tactics, which would be applicable in this context. These arebased on the scholar’s general description of legitimacy, that itis a “generalized perception or assumption that the actions of anentity are desirable, proper, or appropriate within some sociallyconstructed system of norms, values, beliefs and definitions”(Kotch and Grunhagen 76). First, an organization can use its power toprovide legitimacy by maximizing the welfare of the people within itsjurisdiction, hence making them belief in the authority. Secondly,any potential rivals or threats to the authority can be eliminated,leaving only the people who believe in the authority.

Benefits oflegitimacy to organizations

Weber assertsthat legitimacy helps organizations to guide social action (Alexanderand Saden78). In fact, Burger and Luckman affirms, “Institutionsalso, by the very fact of their existence, control human conduct bysetting up predefined patterns of conduct, which channel it in onedirection as against the many other directions that wouldtheoretically be possible,” (55). In this regards, Weber, andBurger and Luckman see legitimacy as grounded on control andhistoricity i.e. a premise based on creating a pattern that controlspeople. Scholars, through the definition of the principles andapplication of legitimacy, unanimously agree that an organizationneeds legitimacy to make its people believe in its practices, hencesuccess. If the people in a certain organization believed that itsauthority was not legitimate, then the organization’s authoritywould have difficult time in making laws and rules to guide theconduct of the people, inevitably translating into failure. Accordingto the theories by the scholars, coordination and control of allactivities within an organization are very important for formalorganization and success in the modern world.

Building on the work of Meyer and Rowan, organizations can convincetheir stakeholders that their behavior is rational, appropriate anddesirable through legitimacy. This helps the organization tocommunicate its strategies and to ensure that operations go smoothlywithout any rebellion. Berger and Luckman similarly assert thatlegitimacy helps organizations to explain and justify their actions(57). From weber’s characterization of legitimacy, it implies thatit helps organizations to maintain stability, secure survival and aidin success. Legitimacy can therefore be far more influential in anorganization’s decision-making process than any other rationalefficiency approaches that can be applied. According to Meyer andRowan, having legitimacy eliminates the possibility of the peoplequestioning the efficiency of the organization (Greenwood et al. 50).All these scholars agree on the fact that legitimacy helpsorganizations to seem natural and meaningful.

By usinginstitutionalized myths/traditions within the organization, itbecomes possible to elaborate confidence in operations and overallstakeholder satisfaction. The organization also maintains theassumption that it is acting in good faith, hence no need ofrebellion from the followers. Generally, legitimacy aidsorganizations to reduce the scope of misunderstanding and rebellionfrom the people and increasing the applicability of the developmentpolicies. Through legitimacy, the organizations can increaseinstitutional capacity and through the authority, be able toarticulate its mission and ensure that the resources and work forceare well utilized.


This paper hasoutlined political science’s failure to provide concrete definitionfor legitimacy. However, through the comparison and contrasting ofworks of famous scholars, the principles of legitimacy have beenoutlined, and paradigms of application of legitimacy atorganizational level established. Weber, who perhaps can be accordedthe recognition for the most popular work on legitimacy, which hasbeen used as the foundation for subsequent literature by otherscholars, categorizes belief theories of legitimacy. Scholars likeMeyer and Rowan, who assert that legitimacy is entangled in mythsthat have been woven into institutions, have argued these from apower perspective. On the other hand, Burger and Luckman have definedlegitimacy as an institution order that grounds on a pattern set byan authority. Analyses by the scholars that have been mentioned inthis paper produce a more direct conception of legitimacy within thecontext of organizations. This paper concludes that legitimacy can beused as a criterion to assess the acceptability of the behavior of anorganization. This is because the development of the issue oflegitimacy as applied in organizations raises the question as towhether the authority acts coercively in situations that triggerdebate, whether friendly or unfriendly. Given this, the paperintroduces power as a source of legitimacy for organizations, besidestradition, legality and ideology. Power, in this context, has to bedistinguished from influence, as the latter is the ability to affectoutcome regardless lack of having the final say over the outcome.

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