Institutional Multitasking: Institutional Work and Political Legitimacy in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

Ida Hjorth Bøgestrand & Josephine Mark Jacobsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


This paper takes its point of departure in an increasingly important type of sustainability governance, namely private commodity standards. Using the case of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), it studies the internal dynamics that underpin the political legitimacy of standards. Specifically, we rely on Lawrence and Suddaby’s (2006) taxonomy of institutional work to uncover how types of institutional work are used to gain and maintain political legitimacy in RSPO. By emphasising how institutional work is associated with the political legitimacy of a standard, our thesis combines largely separate theoretical perspectives to explain the mechanisms that give rise to the regulatory capacity of private commodity standards. To illustrate this process, we derive a theoretical framework for standardisation, whereby the rule of private commodity standards becomes accepted as appropriate and justified. Drawing on longitudinal archival data supported by interviews with seven members of RSPO, we find that ten different types of institutional work are employed to gain and maintain political legitimacy. Based on this finding, we argue that institutional work is more appropriately approached as a thriving ecosystem of different types of work than as a taxonomy. Adding to the scholarly literature, we present two new theoretical concepts, namely ‘institutional multitasking’ and ‘dynamic balance of compromises’, which reflect the complex dynamics and ever-evolving nature of standardisation. !!

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final ThesisMSc in Business, Language and Culture - Business and Development Studies, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2017
Number of pages248
SupervisorsKristjan Jespersen