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Clothes Make the Person? The Tailoring of Legitimating Accounts and the Social Construction of Identity


  • W. E. Douglas Creed

    () (Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, 24 Quincy Road, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts 02467)

  • Maureen A. Scully

    () (Simmons Graduate School of Management, 409 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215)

  • John R. Austin

    () (The Pennsylvania State University, Smeal College of Business Administration, 416 Beam Building, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802)


We empirically explore the legitimating accounts for and against policies precluding workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, focusing on how agents working at both the national level and within organizations use broader cultural accounts in building their legitimating accounts in local settings. The diffusion perspective in institutional theory has portrayed how agents import “ready-to-wear” cultural accounts. In contrast, translation theory depicts how agents interpret and adapt cultural accounts as they fashion them into legitimating accounts for a local setting. An alternative would theorize accounts that are neither strictly borrowed nor idiosyncratically tailored. We advanced a third perspective, drawing on frame analysis as it is used in social movement theory. Framing theory attends to both the importance of cultural building blocks and the embedded ways in which agents relate to and shape systems of meaning and mobilize collective action to change social arrangements. We find that legitimating accounts are intertwined with the construction of social identities, which serve to legitimate, on the one hand, an account maker's participation in the discourse and set of claims, and on the other hand, the involvement of proponents and crucial audiences. We suggest that the mobilizing potential of legitimating accounts rests in part on their messages becoming “autocommunicational,” so that listeners identify themselves with the message.

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  • W. E. Douglas Creed & Maureen A. Scully & John R. Austin, 2002. "Clothes Make the Person? The Tailoring of Legitimating Accounts and the Social Construction of Identity," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 13(5), pages 475-496, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ororsc:v:13:y:2002:i:5:p:475-496
    DOI: 10.1287/orsc.13.5.475.7814

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Richard Whittington, 1992. "Putting Giddens Into Action: Social Systems And Managerial Agency," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 29(6), pages 693-712, November.
    2. Debra E. Meyerson & Maureen A. Scully, 1995. "Crossroads Tempered Radicalism and the Politics of Ambivalence and Change," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 6(5), pages 585-600, October.
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