Legitimation and multimodality

Authored by: Theo van Leeuwen

The Routledge Handbook of Language and Politics

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138779167
eBook ISBN: 9781315183718
Adobe ISBN:


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The legitimations by means of which individuals or groups ‘seek to secure consent to their power from at least the most important among their subordinates’ (Beetham 1991, p. 3), has for some time been an important area in the study of language and politics (e.g. Rojo & van Dijk 1997; van Leeuwen & Wodak 1999) and more recently, also in organisation and management studies (e.g. Vaara & Tienar 2008). Such studies consider how language is used to legitimate the power of individuals or groups, and also, more broadly, how social practices are legitimated in all their aspects; not only the individuals and groups that have agentive power in them, but also the actions that constitute them, the ways in which these actions are undertaken, the places where – and the times when – they are undertaken, and the resources that are used to do so (van Leeuwen 2008, pp. 8–12). The legitimacy of the law, for instance, is not only realised linguistically, through the written and spoken language of the law, but also through the layout of courtrooms, the dress (and in some countries, wigs) of lawyers, and so on. The same applies to the legitimacy of the practices that constitute politics. In studying legitimation, attention must therefore be paid, not only to language, but also to the other forms of expression that combine with language in many forms of contemporary political discourse, in short, to multimodality.

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