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The concept of legitimacy straddles many disciplinary lines. It can be understood as a social concept, as a moral concept, and as a legal concept. These dimensions roughly map onto different disciplines, but they also overlap to a great extent, making it difficult to keep to strict definitional boundaries. Civil society organizations (CSOs) interact with various actors, nationally and internationally. They deliver services and campaign on issues sometimes in globally complex situations. This makes it important to pin down just what it is that makes them legitimate as independent entities. Their legitimacy can be viewed as normative. This analysis would argue that there is a specific line to cross from being legitimate or illegitimate. Their legitimacy can also be viewed as relative. This analysis would focus on relative units of measurement to argue that CSO legitimacy is a matter of degree. That is, there is no line but rather a spectrum. This makes legitimacy a process rather than a state of being, one that is negotiated with other actors across different contexts. In reality, these analytical viewpoints often overlap in CSO research and can make it hard to pin down what exactly makes CSOs legitimate.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Encyclopedia of Civil Society
EditorsR.A. List, H.K. Anheier, S. Toepler
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)978331999675
ISBN (Print)9783319996752
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2023


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