To gain an in-depth understanding of legitimacy as a general social process, we review contemporary approaches to legitimacy within two areas of sociology: social psychology and organizations. A comparison of these distinct approaches allows us to explain the process, both in implicit and explicit ways at different levels of analysis, through which a social object is construed as legitimate. This comparison also suggests four stages in the process by which new social objects, both individual (worthy/unworthy individuals) and collective (organizational forms), gain legitimation: innovation, local validation, diffusion, and general validation. We then show how legitimation of the status quo—that is, the acceptance of widespread consensual schemas/beliefs in the larger society—often fosters the stability of nonoptimal actions and practices that are created as a result of these new individual and collective social objects. Finally, we discuss how consensual beliefs such as status beliefs and cultural capital fuel the reproduction of inefficiency and inequality in groups and organizations.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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