Legitimation and delegitimation in global cooperation

Research > Thematic field

Legitimacy and its contestation are vital issues for global cooperation and were a key concern of the Centre’s research during its final funding period. The principal aim of this research was to illuminate the procedural relationship between legitimation and delegitimation in global cooperation. Here, the former is understood as processes whereby authority gains and sustains legitimacy, while the latter refers to processes involving its erosion and loss. Grounded in the concept of ‘politics of legitimation’, such processes are understood as the constant public interplay between actions to undermine (delegitimize) and promote (legitimatize) contentious matters of global cooperation in various arenas.

The core question the Centre’s research sought to answer is: through what processes, and with what consequences do actors and institutions involved in global cooperation obtain or lose legitimacy? To answer this question, the Centre pursued an interdisciplinary and multi-method approach, combining normative perspectives rooted in moral judgement with sociological analyses observing political behaviour. The goal was to deliver a better understanding of legitimation and delegitimation processes, especially within polycentric governance arrangements. The Centre’s research aimed to systematize theoretical insights and empirical findings on: how and why actors and institutions engage in or boycott global cooperation efforts; how and why actors and forms of global cooperation evolve; and how and why specific issues gain or lose pertinence over time.

Research at the Centre considered politicization processes and power relations across various scales – local, national, and transnational. It encompassed a broad spectrum of political actors and their complex relationships, including activists, and new forms of resistance against formal authorities, such as whistleblowers, young climate activists, and right-wing networks. Giving equal attention to legitimation and delegitimation, the Centre’s research considered political disputes beyond established institutional sites and included legitimacy claims by average citizens. Sites of resistance against global cooperation include – but are not limited to – civil society asso-ciations, social movements, and everyday practices.

To learn more about citizens’ legitimacy beliefs in global governance arrangements, the Centre conducted innovative survey experiments in collaboration with researchers at Stockholm University. These surveys explored how people’s ideological orientations and peer opinions shape their legitimacy beliefs towards international organizations. Additionally, our research examined the impact of the involvement of non-state actors in global governance on citizens’ legitimacy beliefs in global governance institutions. Initial results show that citizens accord greater legitimacy to international organizations perceived to be aligned with their own beliefs. They also indicate that peer opinions, both online and offline, significantly shape citizens’ legitimacy beliefs of international organizations and that the inclusion of non-state actors substantially enhances the legitimacy beliefs in global governance institutions.

Another focus of our research was processes of legitimation and delegitimation that contribute to the reproduction of racialized hierarchies in South-South cooperation. Among other topics, our studies examined, instances of racialization within transnational cooperation projects, legitimized through narratives of South-South-friendship. Overall, the Centre’s research invites a perspective on normative disputes not as a systemic error, as implied by state-centred concepts, but as a normal and often productive source for democratic politics and practices of global cooperation.

Key publications:

Czene, Eric, Schneider, Nina and Vestena, Carolina A. (2024) (eds). ‘Unveiling Racialisation in South-South Cooperation’, Global Dialogue Magazine, forthcoming.


Legitimacy in Global Governance – LegGov
To learn more about citizens’ legitimacy beliefs in global governance institutions, the Centre conducted a series of cross-country survey experiments in close collaboration with researchers at Universities of Stockholm and Maastricht. Empirical results of these experiments, first of all, show that citizens perceive international organizations (IOs) to pursue specific ideological goals and that they ascribe legitimacy to IOs the more congruent they perceive the respective organization‘s ideological profile to be with their own ideological orientations. Second, experimental evidence suggests that other citizens’ opinions („peer opinion“) are highly influential in how people make up their minds about major IOs – an influence that we show to be at work equally online and offline as well as different levels of political knowledge and education. Third, we found strong evidence that people prefer non-state actors – such as scientists, business, civil society, and individual citizens – to effectively participate in global regulatory schemes, and that such inclusion substantially enhances the degree of legitimacy people ascribe to global governance. However, the inclusion’s impact on legitimacy very much depends on how people expect non-state actors to positively contribute to global governance in terms of additional expertise, public interest orientation, operational capacities, and public transparency.