University of Oulu

“Imagining a better future while legitimating a controversial present” : a critical discourse analysis of Fortum’s communication on the Uniper acquisition

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Author: Kuivamäki, Tuomas1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Oulu Business School, Department of Management and International Business, Management
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.8 MB)
Pages: 80
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Oulu : T. Kuivamäki, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-06-21
Thesis type: Master's thesis
Tutor: Hermes, Jan
Reviewer: Hermes, Jan
Kaasila-Pakanen, Anna-Liisa


This case study takes a closer look at how multinational corporations attempt to legitimate their actions and practices, especially those with contested or controversial consequences. Critical discursive perspective and critical discourse analysis are adopted for the in-depth examination of how the Finnish utility company Fortum attempted to discursively legitimate their involvement in the controversial acquisition of the German energy group Uniper. The plans of the self-proclaimed sustainability leader Fortum to acquire Uniper — a company with a significant fossil fuel portfolio — led to continuous struggles for Fortum to legitimate the acquisition to different stakeholders. This study further elaborates how corporations attempt to restore discursive regularity after the legitimacy of the company and their practices is questioned.

The qualitative empirical data of this study includes 14 public documents and texts regarding the acquisition of Uniper that were published by Fortum in their websites during the years 2017–2020. These texts are analyzed through the lens of critical discourse analysis to find the subtle micro-level textual strategies utilized by Fortum to discursively create a sense of legitimacy around the acquisition, as well as their links to macro-level social and societal contexts.

The findings show Fortum used multiple discursive strategies simultaneously to create a sense of legitimacy around the company, the acquisition and the energy industry. These strategies included claims to an authoritative expert status to create an image of a credible and legitimate decision maker, portraying the acquisition as a common sense, unavoidable and even a necessity with futurological predictions, and the use of moral and cautionary tales and metaphors. These strategies draw mainly from neoliberal and other contemporary capitalist discourses. Other discourses that were mobilized included discourses of technocracy, sustainable development and caring corporations.

The findings of this study further elaborate how the senses of legitimacy of a company are socially (re)constructed in discourse and language use. The study complements the existing literature by providing a deep dive into the micro-level legitimation processes of multinational corporations and connecting them into wider macro-level social phenomena — a connection that has not been adequately examined in previous research.

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Copyright information: © Tuomas Kuivamäki, 2021. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.