Purposeful life or sugar-coated lies: How Elizabeth Holmes legitimised her fraud

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This study examines how Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the health technology corporation, Theranos, constructed the legitimation of her blood-testing service. It contributes to current research on legitimation strategies of fraudsters, and extends the applicability of Van Leeuwen's legitimation framework. Nineteen interviews with Elizabeth Holmes were closely analysed to reveal that Holmes predominantly used discursive strategies to legitimise the corporate aims, depicting a revolutionary and trustworthy corporate image and aggrandising herself as a moral and altruistic business elite. This created an illusion that deluded stakeholders. These findings enrich our understanding of Holmes's deception, and provide insights into corporate legitimation by dishonest entrepreneurs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-120
Number of pages15
JournalLanguage and Communication
Early online date10 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

This article was supported by Lingnan University (grant #102349).

I appreciate the valuable reviewer comments that have helped improve this manuscript. I am also indebted to the anonymous researcher who reviewed the analysis conducted during the present study and offered helpful suggestions.


  • Corporate legitimation
  • Critical discourse analysis
  • Elizabeth Holmes
  • Fraud
  • Legitimation strategies


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