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In its etymological sense, legitimacy is the quality of what is in conformity with the law. From this, the concept of legitimacy was first conceived in relation to the justification and sustainability of state systems of power (Zelditch, 2001a). Nowadays, legitimacy is demanded in many areas of our society, becoming a pillar of structuring (Connel, 1992). Indeed, various actors, and for different categorical purposes, lay claim to a right to be or to act within a specific social environment (Hatzfeld, 2014). Thus, in a broader generic sense, legitimacy is the character of a social entity that enjoys the approval of the actors in his or her environment, based on shared norms and relating to what is acceptable or not (Laufer and Burlaud, 1997; Buisson, 2008).
Organisations are a natural domain for legitimacy issues (Suddaby et al., 2017), but we observe that few works are devoted to individual legitimacy. The few studies on the subject are concentrated, in terms of governance and entrepreneurship, around the leader or the management team (Laufer, 1996; Petit and Mari, 2009; Petit and Boulocher, 2009; Petit and Saguy, 2011), the creator (Messeghem and Sammut, 2007), the successor (Barach et al., 1988) or even the business buyer (Cullière, 2008; Ouardi, 2012; Mazari, 2018; De Freyman et al., 2019). Among these first approaches, we believe that studies related to the legitimacy of external SME takeovers deserve special attention from the scientific community, and it is important for scholars to initiate this work presently…


This conceptual paper uses a psychosociological approach to explore the legitimacy of external buyer of SMEs. The article aims to develop a definition of legitimacy that considers the distinctive features of the takeover’s social context. In line with this perspective, the external buyer’s legitimacy is associated with the collective recognition of an executive or governing authority that is morally acceptable with regard to the buyer’s personal characteristics and ability to meet the professional and cultural requirements of the enterprise. Another major issue is understanding how this legitimacy is built during the business transfer process. The developments reveal a dynamic process composed of a phase of “anticipated legitimation” and a phase of “legitimation in use” during which the external buyer will necessarily have to establish, maintain (or develop), and defend its legitimacy vis-à-vis different audiences (proximity, discretionary, and target firm). This analysis highlights the contribution of support at different points during the process.

  • business transfer
  • SME
  • legitimacy of external buyer
  • judgment dynamics
  • audiences
  • support
Julien de Freyman
Associate Professor
South Champagne Business School
Sonia Boussaguet
Associate Professor
NEOMA Business School
Campus de Reims
Olivier Cullière
Affiliate Professor
South Champagne Business School
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
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