Making Sense of Legitimacy Across Universities: Ecocritical Ontological Perspective




Ecocritical ontology, Sense-making methodology, Legitimacy, University ecosystem, University governance, Mondragon University


This paper reflects on research methodological considerations of how legitimacy of publicly funded universities
occurs. From an ecocritical ontological perspective the paper uses a metaphor and sense-making techniques to shed light
into effective modalities universities use to connect with local economies. The Milky way Galactic ecosystem metaphor is
used not only to make sense of the ecocritical ontological stance taken to make sense of legitimacy but is used as a metaphor
to make sense of the findings. The paper asserts that the legitimacy theoretical lens is particularly appropriate to probe
universities’ legitimacy and connectedness to the local communities they are embedded in. The rationale behind this
assertion is that legitimacy is only conferred to the extent the actions of an entity are perceived as desirable, efficient, proper,
or appropriate by the ecosystem stakeholders. The theory is thus useful for examining connectedness of publicly funded
universities to its local community. The paper argues that the university system that is delinked from local economic
development is like a Milky way Galaxy delinked from its Galactic ecosystem. Against this backdrop, the paper juxtaposes
Mondragon University, located in a rural part of Northern Spain with two South African universities embedded in poverty
stricken rural South Africa. Mondragon University is presented as a hallmark of success when it comes to local community
legitimacy. The paper is centered around the following question: (1) how does university legitimacy yield impactful local
community outcomes? Using the Milky way Galaxy metaphor, the findings show a considerable variety in local community
connectedness depending on bureaucratic arrangements of the universities. The findings also showed that alternative
income sources, outside the public purse, just like the gravitational force in the galactic ecosystem, is the key force that
determines legitimacy in a university setting. The paper contributes to business research methods by fusing metaphorical as
well as sense-making research techniques to bring to sharp focus permeability of the university space to enable local
economic development.