Creation of legitimacy in grassroots organisations - an empirical study into community supported agriculture in the Netherlands.
Oers, L.M. van
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Global societal challenges, such as climate change and food security, emphasise the need for more sustainable modes of production and consumption in various sectors. Current strategies tackling these challenges reflect the dominance of market-driven technological innovations. This top-down approach designates a key role for commercial firms in the innovation process and regards citizens as passive agents. More recently, the grassroots is emphasised as novel site for sustainable innovation. Grassroots innovations are bottom-up, community-led innovations which create societal value. Previous research has predominantly focused on understanding the potential of grassroots innovation to outgrow their niche and trigger societal change. Hitherto, the patterns and conditions for grassroots organisational survival have far less been researched. This thesis starts from the assertion that survival is dependent on a grassroots organisation’s ability to acquire a legitimate status. A legitimate status is inevitable to mobilise resources; acquire regulatory support and articulate demand. This thesis aims to understand how the creation of legitimacy occurs in grassroots organisations. Building on organisational literature, this thesis highlights the importance of entrepreneurial actions to get the innovation accepted as legitimate alternative to incumbent substitutes. 25 qualitative interviews with Dutch CSA entrepreneurs have been executed. In particular, this thesis studied how and why grassroots innovation obtain pragmatic, moral and cognitive legitimacy and which legitimation strategies i.e. conform, select and manipulate they employ. The results indicate that legitimacy for CSA can be described as value-pragmatic or morally grounded pragmatic legitimacy. In particular, normative moral legitimacy and pragmatic legitimacy seem to moderate each other. As the result of positive feedback loops, pragmatic appreciation coincides with the assessor’s moral understanding in ways that go beyond economic exchange. As such, a ‘moralisation’ of food provisioning is witnessed. Specific features of CSA, such as open communication, authenticity and being approachable aid the build-up of moral legitimacy. In a similar vein, the creation of social networks that build on reciprocity, trust and collective gains allow members to appreciate the CSA’s immaterial benefits. This thesis shows that CSA entrepreneurs predominantly work to garner legitimacy from their members. In contrast, external audiences remain at a distance and as they search for tangible deliverables, misunderstand CSAs and their societal value. These dynamics explain why CSAs garner legitimacy locally and become successful within their own locality, hitherto encounter difficulties in scaling-up or triggering of socio-technical change.