Controversies, sensemaking and the institutional work of justification

G. Patriotta, J.-P. Gond, F. Schultz

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademic


In this paper we introduce the concept of ‗institutional work of justification‘ to account for the ways in which individuals and organizations actively make sense of potentially threatening situations and engage in purposeful action in order to produce effects of some sort on the existing order of things. We build on Boltanski and Thévenot‘s (2006) theory of justification to elaborate a process model linking the concepts of justification, institutional work and sensemaking. We use this framework to analyze a controversy around safety emerging from a nuclear accident involving a large European energy company. Based on our case study findings, we argue that different stakeholders, through their communication activities, mobilize higher order principles, in the form of ‗rationalized myths‘, in order to make sense of events, develop coherent accounts, and justify their positions within the controversy. In this respect, rationalized myths enable contested narrations through which controversies are enacted, apprehended and shaped discursively.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-37
Number of pages36
JournalICCSR Research Paper Series
Issue number57
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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