Legitimacy Revisited: Disentangling Propriety, Validity, and Consensus

Patrick Haack, Oliver Schilke, Lynne Zucker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Recent research has conceptualized legitimacy as a multi-level phenomenon comprising propriety and validity. Propriety refers to an individual evaluator’s belief that a legitimacy object is appropriate for its social context, whereas validity denotes an institutionalized, collective-level perception of appropriateness. In this article, we refine this multi-level understanding of legitimacy by adding a third, meso-level construct of ‘consensus’, which we define as the agreement between evaluators’ propriety beliefs. Importantly, validity and consensus are distinct and can be incongruent, given that an institutionalized perception can hide underlying disagreement. Disentangling validity from consensus is a crucial extension of the multi-level theory of legitimacy, because it enables an improved understanding of the legitimacy processes that precede sudden and unanticipated institutional change. In particular, while previous works considered revised propriety beliefs as the starting point for institutional change, our account emphasizes that the disclosure of the actual (vs. merely assumed) belief distribution within a social context may instigate institutional change. To study the interplay of propriety, validity, and consensus empirically, we propose a set of experimental designs specifically geared towards improving knowledge of the role of legitimacy and its components in institutional change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)749-781
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Management Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2021


  • consensus
  • experiments
  • institutional change
  • legitimacy
  • microfoundations
  • propriety
  • validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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