IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Magic mirror on the wall, who in the world is legitimate after all? Legitimacy claims of international institutions


  • Biegoń, Dominika
  • Gronau, Jennifer
  • Schmidtke, Henning


The legitimacy of international institutions is a contested issue both in terms of concept formation and empirical evidence and attracts attention from across the political sciences. The present contribution posits a relational concept of legitimacy that includes self-justification of rulers on the one hand, and legitimacy beliefs of the ruled on the other hand. By taking a top-down perspective, our conceptual section explores an underdeveloped aspect in the field of legitimacy research. We posit that the analysis of political elites' self-legitimations can considerably contribute to our understanding of governing activities and provide a more thorough picture of legitimation processes. These practices play a key role in transforming mere power into popularly accepted, stable authority and have an essentially communicative nature. Hence, self-legitimations are amenable to discourse analysis. In this conjunction, the paper assumes that the media functions as a discursive battleground creating a space for positive or negative evaluations of political orders, including affirmative contributions of the representatives of challenged organizations themselves. The conceptual and theoretical link between legitimacy, self-legitimizing practices, and discourse analysis is further developed in the first section of the paper. Subsequently, our conceptualization of self-legitimizing practices is empirically exemplified. Our explorative study of self-legitimating statements of representatives of three major international institutions (EU, G8, and UN) in media discourses is based on a large qualitative data-set which analyzes legitimacy discourses in two high-quality newspapers in four Western democracies (GB, US, DE, and CH) over a period of ten years (1998-2007). Our empirical findings demonstrate that international institutions' formal representatives and member states actively take part in the process of legitimation. Hence, global governance arrangements are not only objects of legitimacy demands, but at the same time cultivators of their own legitimacy.

Suggested Citation

  • Biegoń, Dominika & Gronau, Jennifer & Schmidtke, Henning, 2013. "Magic mirror on the wall, who in the world is legitimate after all? Legitimacy claims of international institutions," TranState Working Papers 169, University of Bremen, Collaborative Research Center 597: Transformations of the State.
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:sfb597:169

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Allen Buchanan, 2011. "Reciprocal legitimation: Refraining the problem of international legitimacy," Politics, Philosophy & Economics, , vol. 10(1), pages 5-19, February.
    2. Hurd, Ian, 1999. "Legitimacy and Authority in International Politics," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 53(02), pages 379-408, March.
    3. Easton, David, 1975. "A Re-assessment of the Concept of Political Support," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 5(04), pages 435-457, October.
    4. Kevin Featherstone, 1994. "Jean Monnet and the 'Democratic Deficit' in the European Union," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 32(2), pages 149-170, June.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:zbw:sfb597:169. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (ZBW - German National Library of Economics). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.