Stigma and Legitimacy: Two Ends of a Single Continuum or Different Continua Altogether?

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27 Scopus citations


Hampel and Tracey and Helms, Patterson, and Hudson offer contrasting perspectives regarding whether stigma and legitimacy belong on a single continuum or different continua altogether. To clarify the high stakes involved when society stigmatizes actors, I argue that all stigmas have moral overtones and that, while stigmatization upholds systems of values, norms and ideologies, the moralizing often comes with a significant price not only for the stigmatized but for society itself. I then argue that the contrasting perspectives can be reconciled if scholars restrict the definitions of both stigma and legitimacy to group-specific judgments of specific practices or attributes. However, I ponder if the definitional precision gained by collapsing both stigma and legitimacy to the same narrow focus costs us, as scholars, more than it benefits. I close with two cautionary notes. First, scholars should avoid being seduced by society’s crass demand for simplistic labels when it comes to moral fitness and thinking that stigma and legitimacy are inherently binary states (black vs. white) rather than the continuous states (shades of gray) they usually are. Second, scholars should be wary of viewing the midpoint of a stigma or legitimacy scale as representing indifference or neutrality when it may actually represent ambivalence – a far different phenomenological experience. Rather than assessing stigma/legitimacy with a single scale that varies from positive/high to negative/low – with indifferent or neutral as the midpoint – scholars should consider assessing them with dual scales for legitimacy and illegitimacy or stigmatized and non-stigmatized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-30
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Management Inquiry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • ambivalence
  • legitimacy
  • stigma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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