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Corporate rhetorical strategies in the legitimation of genetically modified foods

Jeffrey Gauthier (Department of Management, Information Systems, and Analytics, State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh, New York, USA)
Jeffrey A. Kappen (Department of Management and International Business, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa, USA)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 7 August 2017



The purpose of this paper is to examine the rhetorical strategies used by organizations when the legitimacy of their products is challenged by stakeholders’ sustainability concerns.


The approach involves rhetorical analysis of texts addressing the implications of genetically modified foods for sustainability. The rhetorical logic (pathos, logos, or ethos) and discursive intent (promotion of validity or propriety) invoked by leading seed producers to address stakeholders’ sustainability concerns was identified.


Ethos was found to be used to address validity judgments, pathos to address propriety judgments, and logos to address both validity and propriety judgments. The mechanisms through which rhetorical logic supports discursive intent are described.

Research limitations/implications

This study contributes to a growing body of research at the intersection of discourse and legitimacy, and reveals the rhetorical strategies used to address stakeholders’ sustainability concerns. Future research can build on the study’s findings by examining the effectiveness of distinct rhetorical strategies in building legitimacy.


We lack a complete understanding of how legitimacy is discursively constructed when stakeholder concerns, such as those around sustainability, threaten an organization’s legitimacy. This paper’s examination of rhetorical logic and discursive intent advances this understanding.



Gauthier, J. and Kappen, J.A. (2017), "Corporate rhetorical strategies in the legitimation of genetically modified foods", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 218-235.



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