Fredrik Söderbaum (U Gothenburg) and I have edited a special section entitled “Legitimizing international organizations” in International Affairs, which examines legitimation strategies of international governmental organizations (IOs).

The introduction provides a novel conceptual framework to think about the origins of IO legitimation strategies, which may result from audiences’ normative demands, IO representatives’ normative beliefs or the organisational environment – we call this the AAE framework. Our contributors use this framework to examine discursive, institutional and behavioral legitimation strategies of a range of IOs, including global IOs such as the UN and the WTO and regional IOs such as ASEAN and Mercosur.

The section challenges two established notions in the IO legitimacy and legitimation literature. First, we qualify the notion that legitimation is intimately tied up with questions of IO authority; we show instead that IOs with limited or very little authority also engage extensively in legitimation. Second, we qualify the idea that IO legitimation strategies primarily reflect audiences’ normative demands; we show instead that IO representatives’ normative beliefs as well as the organisational environment also drive IO legitimation; in some cases more so than audience demands.


Table of contents
Legitimizing international organizations


  1. The origins of legitimation strategies in international organizations: agents, audiences and environments [open access]
    Tobias Lenz & Fredrik Söderbaum
  2. Agents, audiences and peers: why international organizations diversify their legitimation discourse [open access]
    Tobias Lenz and Henning Schmidtke
  3. The path of least resistance: why international institutions maintain dialogue forums [open access]
    Melanie Coni-Zimmer, Nicole Deitelhoff & Diane Schumann
  4. Organizational narratives and self-legitimation in international organizations [open access]
    Sarah von Billerbeck
  5. Two-sided legitimation strategies: informal groups at the World Trade Organization
    Lora Anne Viola
  6. ASEAN, Chinese and US legitimation strategies over the Indo-Pacific security architecture
    Joel Ng
  7. Populist (de)legitimation of international organizations [open access]
    Kilian Spandler & Fredrik Söderbaum
  8. Mercosur at 30: political ideologies and (de)legitimation strategies
    Andrea Ribeiro Hoffmann  
  9. Diversification’s legitimation challenges: ASEAN and its Myanmar predicament
    Alice D. Ba
  10. The politics of legitimation in combined sanction regimes: the case of Venezuela
    Stefano Palestini