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Talk from the top: leadership and self-legitimation in international organizations

von Billerbeck, S. ORCID: (2022) Talk from the top: leadership and self-legitimation in international organizations. International Studies Review, 24 (3). ISSN 1468-2486

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1093/isr/viac022


How do leaders create legitimacy in international organizations (IOs)? It is widely acknowledged that legitimacy matters to IOs, but little research examines internal self-legitimation – the creation of legitimacy for staff, rather than for external audiences – and who specifically undertakes these self-legitimation activities in IOs. This paper fills these gaps by examining the particular role of leaders in self-legitimation and I develop a theoretical framework that shows: (1) how leaders have a unique role to play as legitimators due to their high social status within the IO and their access to discursive resources for legitimation; (2) how leaders create internal legitimacy through the introduction or reintroduction of narratives and the creation of self-referential language and (3) how leader-led self-legitimation entails three potential risks. I illustrate these points with three case studies, one from the World Bank and two from the UN. I conclude by proposing a new research agenda for this underexplored area of IO and legitimacy scholarship.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Politics, Economics and International Relations > Politics and International Relations
ID Code:106103
Publisher:Oxford University Press


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