Despite the proliferation of research on legitimacy and justice, there is a paucity of knowledge of how fairness is socially constructed in and through field-configuring events. That is, we know little of how legitimacy is established in relation to and between stakeholders – both evaluators and those evaluated, human or non-human, in time and space. To understand the ways in which fairness is socially constructed over time, we examine the historical case of Alberta oil sands. Our longitudinal study is based on a comprehensive analysis of the ways in which fairness has been framed and argued in field-configuring hearings and the media coverage around these hearings. We show how the frames of fairness are constructed and reconstructed in and through these field-configuring discussions and how actors use a variety of frames and rhetorical strategies to argue for their views and interests. In particular, our analysis reveals a dynamic of issue or frame containment and expansion where the incumbents tend to contain the frames of fairness to minimize challenges and define status quo as preferred and challengers expand the bases of comparisons to define the need for change.
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