A Contest for Legitimacy: The Divestment Movement and the Fossil Fuel Industry

Julie Ayling*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    32 Citations (Scopus)


    The divestment movement has sought to influence attitudes to fossil fuels by framing producer companies as pariahs and as unnecessary and redundant. In response, the fossil fuel industry has engaged in a direct and aggressive attack on the divestment movement. This article considers the relationship between the movement and the industry as a contest for legitimacy for both the organizations and the norms they advocate. Through a case study of the coal discourse in Australia from 2013 to 2016, it explores how each party has attempted to undermine the other's legitimacy and to build or defend its own. It concludes that the contest for legitimacy is complex, being conducted at multiple levels (pragmatic, moral, legal, and cognitive) and before multiple audiences. For the movement to “win” the contest, it will require more than a simple rebalancing of the legitimacy scales.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)349-371
    Number of pages23
    JournalLaw and Policy
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


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