Comparing Discursive and Performative Contributions to Legitimation of Government: A Study of Municipal Policy Making in Chengdu

Lingling Pan, Qinying Chen, Thomas Jacobson


Research in political science has found that government effectiveness in providing public services can contribute to citizen attributions of legitimacy to government, referred to as legitimation by performance. A communicative line of research expands legitimacy to include procedural elements such as quality of deliberation in decision making, called discursive legitimation. This study incorporates Jürgen Habermas’s theory of communicative action to further the understanding of communication’s role in discursive legitimation of municipal decision making and analyzes this in relation to contributions from performance. The government policy setting was Chengdu, China. The policy issue concerned this city’s plans to increase taxi fares. A sample of 255 adult residents were surveyed. Results indicate that perceived government performance and perceived speech conditions were both positively, and almost equally, associated with attributions of legitimacy to the policy decision. In addition, perceived speech conditions moderated the relationship between the performance evaluation and legitimacy attributions.


communicative action, legitimacy, China, government

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