Signaling and Shaping Legitimacy - Weaving webs of meaning in time and new markets

Chris Rowell

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Society is organized and reproduced through complex webs of institutionalized rules, norms and beliefs. These institutions shape how individuals and organizations interpret, act, interact, and evaluate one another's words and actions. Although we can never be fully free from these webs, it is important for us to understand their makeup, and to be aware that we ourselves are weaving them through our social interactions and practices. Over three essays, this dissertation explores how strategic actors such as firms can identify and understand the ways that they are embedded in institutions, and how they might use this understanding to shape the legitimacy judgments of outside audiences, as well as shape institutional arrangements and practices themselves. The first and second essays are qualitative inductive studies that explore how actors in nascent markets pursue legitimacy for their venture and shape the emerging institutional environment in their favor. The first essay illuminates that ventures in new markets routinely draw upon institutionalized storytelling templates, or "strong plots", in their communications with outsider audiences, which we propose can shape the legitimacy judgments of potential stakeholders and gain their support. The second essay emphasizes that the regulation of competition in new markets that address sustainability issues is complicated by significant intertemporal ambiguities, and reveals how firms can strategically attend to these temporal aspects in their efforts to shape the outcomes and processes of regulation as a market emerges. The third essay is a conceptual paper exploring a relatively underemphasized and conceptually fragmented area of institutional life; that of time. Time is viewed here as a social construct that can be conceived, articulated, and juxtaposed with actions and events in various ways for the purposes of organizing. Synthesizing extant literature, the paper outlines three distinct types of temporal structures – institutionalized ways of conceiving, valuing and orienting toward, and patterning events in time – and theorizes how these temporal structures contribute to the unconscious reproduction of institutional practices. Together, this dissertation provides new insights into how we can deploy culture in language and practices to signal legitimacy to external audiences, and even change institutions to shape legitimating frames. The three studies illuminate different aspects of how individuals and organizations can use institutions to their advantage if they can better understand the ways in which they are entangled in socially constructed webs of meaning, as well as their own roles in spinning these webs. This has important implications for actors pursuing strategic, social or environmental objectives, by shedding further light on how they might become more skilled and reflexive cultural operators.
Translated title of the contributionSignaling and Shaping Legitimacy - Weaving webs of meaning in time and new markets
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Gustafsson, Robin, Supervising Professor
  • Phillips, Nelson, Thesis Advisor, External person
Print ISBNs978-952-60-7534-1
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-7533-4
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • strategy
  • venturing
  • institutions
  • culture
  • narrative
  • discourse
  • new markets
  • time

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