"Battling" for Legitimacy: Analyzing Performative Contests in the Gaza Flotilla Paradigmatic Case

Daniel F. Wajner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


How can we explain the dynamics of nonconventional struggles such as the Gaza flotilla case of May 2010? Most international relations scholars analyze international disputes using a "chess logic," according to which the actors seek to outmaneuver their opponents on the battleground. However, an increasing number of clashes are guided by a "performance logic": although the players interact with one another, their real targets are audiences. The present study aims to bridge this gap, proposing a phenomenological framework for analyzing this particular kind of performative contest over legitimation and delegitimation in contemporary conflicts. It expands upon the idea that current anarchical global politics increasingly lead contending actors to engage in "pure" legitimation struggles-"battles for legitimacy"-seeking to persuade international audiences that they deserve political support. After providing guidelines for the identification of these phenomena, this article presents a model for the methodical examination of their interactive dynamics based on three legitimation functions (appropriateness, consensus, empathy). This model is applied to the flotilla case by mapping the protagonists' framing contests across "legitimation (battle)fields." The findings of this study, which emphasize the strong interplay between normative, political, and emotional mechanisms for empowering (de)legitimation strategies, can contribute to expanding the research program concerning international legitimacy.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1035-1050
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) (2019). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association.


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