Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (1.97 MB)

Strategizing for Legitimacy in Pluralistic Contexts: New Zealand’s Science Sector

Download (1.97 MB)
posted on 2021-11-12, 00:17 authored by Bednarek, Rebecca Suzanne

How do organizations strategize for legitimacy in pluralistic contexts? Little is known about the strategies organizations use to manage their legitimacy with multiple internal and external stakeholders within pluralism. For instance, how strategies interrelate and are combined simultaneously by organizations has not been researched. Through addressing this question the thesis seeks theoretical elaboration that contributes to our understanding in this regard and addresses this gap in the legitimacy literature. In particular, a combinatorial picture of legitimacy strategies is provided that provides insight into how strategies might be combined and interrelate. Based on a novel tabulation that brings the various strands of the literature together a framework is developed for investigating the research problem. Theoretical extension is then sought through an empirical focus on the pluralistic setting of New Zealand’s science sector. Six case studies based on two layers of replication are explored, principally through 58 multi-stakeholder interviews. The findings show that multiple embedded tensions and complex diffused power relationships characterise these organization cases. This provides a basis for investigating legitimacy strategies amidst pluralism: the basis of the analysis A picture of agency intensive legitimation is provided with organizations found to construct and change, as well as conform to, legitimacy demands. This informs the research agenda focused on redressing an identified ‘conformity bias’ (Kitchener, 2002) in much legitimacy theory. Further, a traditional preoccupation with overarching field level systems within dominant strands of legitimacy research has been recognized (Kraatz & Block, 2008). This research contributes by seeking to rectify this imbalance through adopting a framework of legitimacy strategies at the organizational level. The result is five propositions and extension to the theoretical framework. Prior work has tended to associate an organization with a dominant single strategy. This thesis finds multiple legitimacy strategies and strategic combinations being implemented by organizations amidst pluralism. Propositions are offered in this regards. The result is increased understanding of both infrequently explored legitimacy strategies and the relationships between them. Such theoretical development blurs the ‘demarcating lines’ that and are implicit in many frameworks and empirical studies. Additional propositions are also provided regarding why similar organizations experiencing similar pluralism might implement different legitimacy strategies. It is proposed that differences in stakeholder perceptions of pluralism’s dimensions are associated with the implementation of different legitimacy strategies by organizations. Overall, both the creative potential and challenges inherent in strategizing for legitimacy amidst pluralism are illustrated. A nuanced picture in this regard is enabled by the diverse array of strategies surfaced both within and across the focal pluralistic organizations.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Victoria Management School


Daellenbach, Urs; Davenport, Sally