Sub-theme 29: Justifying the Organization: Dealing with Conflicting Economies of Worth and Legitimacy Struggles

Jean-Pascal Gond
Cass Business School, City University London, United Kingdom
Lieke Oldenhof
Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Jeroen Postma
Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Call for Papers

How to justify organizational actions and strategies when conflicting economies of worth are at stake? How to sustain collective action when organizational stakeholders hold different views of what the common good is or should be? These are two central questions that will be addressed in this sub-theme. We welcome empirical studies and theoretical analyses that explore mechanisms of organizational justification in hybrid organizational contexts where multiple economies of worth co-exist (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006) and legitimacy is ‘up for grabs’ (Patriotta et al., 2011). In these contexts, professionals, managers and other social actors have to deal with conflicting orders of worth in order to obtain legitimacy for their actions in the eyes of multiple stakeholders. In this sub-theme, our aim is to enable the cross-fertilization of literatures on economies of worth and justification (e.g. Boltanksi & Thévenot, 2006; Jagd, 2011), legitimacy and institutional work (e.g. Suchman, 1995; Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006), and (e)valuation (e.g. Karpik, 2010; Kjellberg et al., 2013; Lamont, 2012) to get a better understanding of how organizational practices and strategies are valued, critiqued, justified and legitimized.
From the management literature, much attention has been given to coping strategies of professionals and managers to deal with conflicting notions of the common good. Frequently mentioned coping strategies are prioritization, incrementalism and separation of values in different institutions (Thacher & Rein, 2004). Yet, the literature pays little attention to how these strategies are justified towards key stakeholders and lead to organizational (il)legitimacy. Coping is mainly conceived as a psychological or organizational response that exists within (groups of) individuals. Literature on justification and economies of worth addresses this issue in a broader perspective: not just looking at actors’ responses but also examining the role of organizational contexts and the use of justification tests such as rankings, management control systems and metrics. However, also here, the relation between the way conflicting economies of worth are dealt with and processes of justification and legitimation remains relatively unexplored.
This relation deserves more scholarly attention as it would help us to understand how and why organizations are perceived as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in the eyes of stakeholders and are thereby able to function effectively (or not). Focusing on practices of critique and justification (Gond et al. 2015; Boltanski 2011), and acknowledging the co-existence of multiple definitions of the common good, can improve our understanding of how the strategies and work of organizational actors contribute to the creation, maintenance or disruption of legitimacy (Gond et al., 2016; Jagd, 2011; Oldenhof et al., 2014; Patriotta et al., 2011; Taupin, 2012).
Key questions that could be explored in this sub-theme are:
Competing economies of worth and justification

  • How do organizational actors, like professionals and managers, deal with competing worths in their daily work? Does their work include multi-value responses (e.g. compromises) or prioritization of certain values over others?
  • How do organizational actors justify their strategies to multiple stakeholders when these hold competing notions of the common good, and to what effect?
  • What are the differences and commonalities between justification work of various organizational actors in different institutional contexts?

Strategies for critiquing and justifying

  • What role do practices of justification, valuation and critique play in the development and daily use of organizational strategies? How and when do these practices of strategy lead to institutional change?
  • Which materialities and rhetorical strategies are used for critiquing and justifying organizational action?
  • Which ‘tests of worth’ (e.g. devices, performance indicators and rankings) are used to accommodate critique and how do organizations respond to that?

The relation between justification work and legitimacy

  • Under which conditions does justification work contribute to legitimate organizations? When is justification work merely a ‘cover up’ and when is it a genuine attempt to bridge competing notions of the common good?
  • How does justification work take shape when power is unequally distributed among actors? How do justification and power interact? How do uses of power become justified or escape justification?
  • How do managers and executives deal with different economies of worth in corporate social responsibility or sustainability strategies?
  • Can justification work backfire: i.e. create illegitimacy? Can justification work serve dark purposes such as ‘forgetting’ organizational irresponsibility?



  • Boltanski, L. (2011): On Critique. A Sociology of Emancipation. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
  • Boltanski, L., & Thévenot, L. (2006): On Justification: Economies of Worth. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Gond, J.-P., Barin Cruz, L., Raufflet, E., & Charron, M. (2016): “To Frack or Not to Frack? The Interaction of Justification and Power in a Sustainability Controversy.” Journal of Management Studies, 53 (3), 330–363.
  • Gond, J.-P., Leca, B., & Cloutier, C. (2015): “An ‘Economies-of-Worth’ Perspective on Strategy-as-Practice: Justification, Valuation and Critique in the Practice of Strategy.” In: D. Golsorkhi, L. Rouleau, D. Seidl & E. Vaara (eds.): The Cambridge Handbook of Strategy as Practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 201–221.
  • Jagd, S. (2011): “Pragmatic Sociology and Competing Orders of Worth in Organizations.” European Journal of Social Theory, 14 (3), 343–59.
  • Karpik, L. (2010): Valuing the Unique. The Economics of Singularities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Kjellberg, H. et al. (2013): “Valuation Studies? Our Collective Two Cents.” Valuation Studies, 1 (1), 11–30.
  • Lamont, M. (2012): “Toward a Comparative Sociology of Valuation and Evaluation.” Annual Review of Sociology, 38 (1), 201–221.
  • Lawrence, T., & Suddaby, R. (2006): “Institutions and Institutional Work.” In: S. Clegg, C. Hardy, T. Lawrence & W. Nord (eds.): SAGE Handbook of Organization Studies. London: SAGE Publications, 215–254.
  • Oldenhof, L., Postma, J., & Putters, K. (2014): “On Justification Work: How Compromising Enables Public Managers to Deal with Conflicting Values.” Public Administration Review, 74 (1), 52–63.
  • Patriotta, G., Gond, J.-P., & Schulz, F. (2011) “Maintaining Legitimacy: Controversies, Orders of Worth, and Public Justifications. Journal of Management Studies, 48 (8), 1804–1836.
  • Suchman, M. (1995): “Managing Legitimacy: Strategic and Institutional Approaches.” The Academy of Management Review, 20 (3), 571–610.
  • Taupin, B. (2012): “The More Things Change… Institutional Maintenance as Justification Work in in the Credit Rating Industry.” m@n@gement, 15, 529–562.
  • Thacher, D., & Rein, M. (2004): “Managing Value Conflict in Public Policy.” Governance, 17 (4), 457–486.
Jean-Pascal Gond is Chair Professor of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Cass Business School, City University London, UK. His research, which investigates the social construction of CSR and the performativity of management theories, has been published in journals such as ‘Business Ethics Quarterly’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Journal of Management’ or the ‘Journal of Management Studies’. His works have been published in ‘Organization Studies’ and he acts as an ad-hoc reviewer for the journal since 2005.
Lieke Oldenhof is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Health Policy and Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Her research focuses on changing relations between managers, professionals and citizens, network collaboration and the reconfiguration of middle management. Her work has been published in journals such as ‘Public Administration Review’, ‘Health Care analysis’ and ‘Journal of Professions and Organization’.
Jeroen Postma is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Health Policy and Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. His research interests include mergers, media discourse and professional and organizational work. He has published in journals such as ‘Public Administration Review’, ‘Health Economic’, ‘Policy and Law’ and ‘Health Care Management Review’.