Rethinking Legitimacy and International Institutions


This project departs from the observation that legitimacy has become important for international institutions but is also strongly contested. Far from constituting a ‘property’ of international institutions, legitimacy is performed and disputed through discursive practices. While international organizations seek legitimacy, states and other actors engage in dynamic processes of (de-)legitimation. Legitimacy talk is utilised as a tool for political contestation, but can also serve important mediating functions. Rethinking the legitimacy of international institutions needs to take into account two key dimensions: the meanings attached to concepts of legitimacy as they play out in political disputes, and its capacity for adaptation and change over time.

Main content

Selected Publications

Stephen, Matthew D. (2018): "Legitimacy Deficits of International Organizations. Design, Drift, and Decoupling at the UN Security Council". In: Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Vol. 31, No. 1, S. 96-121.
Stephen, Matthew D. (2015): "'Can You Pass the Salt?'. The Legitimacy of International Institutions and Indirect Speech". In: European Journal of International Relations, Vol. 21, No. 4, S. 768-792. (vorab online publiziert 3. März 2015)
Zürn, Michael/Stephen, Matthew (2010): "The View of Old and New Powers on the Legitimacy of International Institutions". In: Politics, Vol. 30, No. S1, Special Issue "Perspectives on the Changing Global Distribution of Power", edited by Alasdair R. Young/Jane Duckett/Paul Graham, S. 91-101.