Maintaining legitimacy through public organizational discourse: Crisis and communication in the United States airline industry
AuthorMassey, Joseph Eric, 1964-
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractOrganizations are beginning to realize the importance of consistent communication with their constituencies. Several organizations have experienced negative consequences for producing inconsistent messages to their publics. This dissertation provides an investigation of the effects of message consistency on perceptions of organizational legitimacy. Legitimacy is the perception that an organization is good and has a right to continue operations. Legitimacy is viewed as an important variable in the study of organizations, since organizations that are not perceived as being legitimate face internal and external threats that could lead to the demise of the organization. Image management theory, crisis management theory, and niche-width theory are relied on in this investigation to examine the effects of message consistency on organizational legitimacy. Image management theory holds that organizations have images in much the same way that people do, and it is therefore incumbent on organizations to engage in strategic communication behaviors designed to influence perceptions of their image. The end goal of image management is the production and maintenance of legitimate organizational status. During crisis events organizational image is threatened, and therefore at no time is the legitimacy of the organization more salient. Crisis management theory provides the explanatory calculus and the context in which to study consistent discourse and perceptions of legitimacy. Finally, niche-width theory argues that different organizational forms are developed in response to different environmental conditions. Two particular types of organizations, generalists and specialists, are found in most organizational fields. Generalist organizations are ones that have many resources and are equipped to deal with much variety in their environment. Specialist organizations, on the other hand, have few resources, and are better equipped to deal with particular aspects of their environment. Niche-width theory is incorporated into the dissertation to determine whether the type of organization (specialist vs. generalist) affects perceptions of organizational legitimacy. These theories provide the foundation for the empirical investigation in this dissertation. Several hypotheses were generated from these theories. Support was found for all but one hypothesis. Results suggest that organizations experiencing crisis should produce consistent messages to both internal and external publics to be perceived as being legitimate.
Degree ProgramGraduate College