NGO legitimacy: four models

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This paper examines the legitimacy of NGOs in the context of international politics. Legitimacy is increasingly associated with NGOs in the role of political actors on a global stage. However, conceptualisation of NGO legitimacy is unclear in the literature. The paper proposes four legitimacy models to clarify how their legitimacy is theorised: the market model, the social change model, the new institutionalism model, and the critical model. The paper's argument is that the models represent four different schools of thought on NGO legitimacy each with a different understanding of NGOs’ role in the international system. Each model is discussed based on the theoretical premises they adapt, the legitimacy criteria and the arguments this generates, and the conclusions they make about the legitimate role of NGOs at the international level. The models provide a heuristic starting point for exploring how NGOs can be theorised as legitimate (rightful and credible) actors in international structures.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-123
Number of pages17
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2015