Sub-theme 13: Paradigm Diversity to Help Us to Decide What 'Good Organization' Is

Henriett Primecz
Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary
John Hassard
Manchester Business School, United Kingdom
Laurence Romani
Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden

Call for Papers

As the topic of the ‘good’ organization is inviting ideals and aspirations other than that of the ‘effective’ organization to take centre stage, this sub-theme considers which of the multiple theoretical standpoints, perspectives and world views available to organizational scholars are there to use. Indeed, depending on researchers’ paradigms, the answer to the question ‘what is a good organization’ will be significantly different. When some will favor a research agenda around efficiency, other will search for sense making or employees’ emancipation.
At a time when the second edition of Burrell & Morgan’s (1979) Sociological Paradigms and Organization Analysis is about to be published, the topic of research paradigms – their identity, use and efficacy – is once again up for debate. Shepherd & Challenger (2013) for example recently suggested the number of publications on paradigms is on the increase. However, the current debate seems to focus not so much on erstwhile philosophical issues of incommensurability and relativism, but rather on the methodological value and usefulness of multiparadigm research, and thus upon practical and performative rather than theoretical issues.

In this sub-theme, therefore, we aim to return the debate to its theoretical and philosophical origins. Specifically, we wish to consider the challenges, threats and opportunities linked to contemporary research on paradigms. In so doing, the sub-theme will invite contributions on the following questions:

  • How should paradigms be theorized? Although Burrell & Morgan (1979) admitted that they took Thomas Kuhn’s (1970) concept of paradigm as an ‘inspiration’ for their work, their own use was a far broader and more generic one. Instead of discussing paradigms in the historical and evolutionary history of organizational analysis (e.g. as recurrent phases of normal and revolutionary scientific activity) they discussed instead a set of competing, yet equally valid, paradigms available to organization theorists and researchers (viz. functionalist, interpretive, radical humanist, radical structuralist). One of the main questions to be addressed by this sub-theme therefore is how valid is it to adopt Kuhn’s (1970) original uses of the paradigm concept – e.g. as a micro-level scientific law (or ‘exemplar’) or a macro-level sociological community (or ‘disciplinary matrix’) –in our field? Or in other words we wish to examine whether it is wiser to go (philosophically) ‘back to basics’ or whether we should develop our own discrete systems for theorizing positions and perspectives in organization studies (i.e. like Burrell & Morgan and a number of other scholars have done)?
  • How should paradigms be classified? Burrell & Morgan (1979) defined four distinct paradigms and over the years their taxonomy has been widely accepted. Indeed their work has been cited extensively within writing on organization theory. One of the reasons for this popularity is that the dimensions of their core matrix – based on assumptions about the ‘nature of social science’ and the ‘nature of society’ – appeared to have much face validity for the discipline. But other taxonomies also appear to have ‘good’ arguments at their core; for example, that proposed famously by Deetz (1996), who talked about the importance of a range of discourses rather than paradigms for use in the field. So what is the current position on this theoretical classificatory debate in organization studies? And specifically what can we learn from the multiple taxonomies – or refinement of earlier taxonomies – now available in our fields (see e.g. Tsoukas & Knudsen, 2003; Denzin & Lincoln, 2005; Hassard & Cox, 2013; Cunliffe, 2011)? Is critical management a paradigm in organization studies? Is postmodernism a paradigm in organization studies (or is postmodernism dead)? And what are their interconnections (if any)? Is critical realism a paradigm in organization studies? If so, where is it to be placed on the various paradigm grids, matrices, taxonomies, or diagrams developed thus far? And are there metaparadigm systems which are generally accepted by the field?
  • How should we conduct paradigm-based research? In what we might call the first wave of the ‘paradigms debate’ the central question concerned whether organizational paradigms could be deemed comparable with one another, a debate which pitted so-called integrationists (Donaldson, 1996, Pfeffer, 1993) against those who argued for a sense of paradigm incommensurability (Burrell & Morgan, 1979; Jackson & Carter, 1991). In the case of ‘good organization’: can we follow the traditional Danish compromise of ‘efficient organization’ with ‘organization, which cares about the society’. At the same time the idea of incommensurability was discussed in relation to possibilities for conducting multiparadigm research. A number of authors from the 1990s onwards argued for conducting multiparadigm research but without necessarily rejecting the incommensurability thesis (Hassard, 1991; Gioa & Pitre, 1990; Schultz & Hatch, 1996). Others expanded this analysis to incorporate appreciation of issues of production, consumption, paradox, pluralism and cross cultural analysis amidst a new wave of multiparadigm research (Hassard & Kelemen, 2002; Lewis & Kelemen, 2002; Primecz et al., 2009; Romani et al., 2011; Primecz et al., 2015). We would like to address therefore that if we accept the possibility of multiparadigm research – and argue that it is not simply “teflon-coated multiperspectivalism” (Deetz, 1996) – then under which circumstances (and in what contexts) should we attempt to bring it to fruition? How many and which paradigms are appropriate for us to build our multiparadigm research on? Are existing paradigms appropriate to researching a rapidly changing social and organizational world? What is appropriate way to research good organizations from different paradigms (e.g. functionalist and critical, etc.)? Can compromise in research and practice be different than simple integration of paradigms, and consequently losing the unique insights of multiple paradigms? Can we develop our own distinctive research paradigms? In other words, what makes research ‘paradigmatic’ in the field of organization studies?



  • Burrell, G., & Morgan, G. (1979): Sociological Paradigms and Organisational Analysis. London: Heinemann.
  • Cunliffe, A.L. (2011): “Crafting Qualitative Research: Morgan and Smircich 30 Years on.” Organizational Research Methods, 14 (4), 647–673.
  • Deetz, S. (1996): “Crossroads-describing differences in approaches to organization science: Rethinking Burrell and Morgan and their legacy.” Organization Science, 7 (2), 191–207.
  • Denzin, N.K., & Lincoln, Y.S. (2005): The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research. London: SAGE Publications.
  • Donaldson, L. (1998): “The myth of paradigm incommensurability in management studies: Comments by an integrationist.” Organization, 5, 267–272.
  • Gioia, D.A., & Pitre, E. (1990): “Multi-paradigm perspectives on theory building.” Academy of Management Review, 15, 584–602.
  • Hassard, J. (1991): “Multiple paradigms and organizational analysis: A case study.” Organization Studies, 12, 275–299.
  • Hassard, J., & Cox, J.W. (2013): “Can sociological paradigms still inform organizational analysis? A paradigm model for post-paradigm times.” Organization Studies, 34 (11), 1701–1728.
  • Hassard, J., & Kelemen, M. (2002): “Production and consumption in organizational knowledge: The case of the ‘paradigms debate.’” Organization, 9, 331–355.
  • Jackson, N., & Carter, P. (1993): “Paradigm wars: A response to Hugh Willmott.” Organization Studies, 14, 721–725.
  • Kuhn, T. S. (1970): The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Lewis, M.W., & Kelemen, M.L. (2002): “Multi-paradigm inquiry: Exploring organizational pluralism and paradox.” Human Relations, 55, 251–275.
  • Pfeffer, J. (1993): “Barriers to the advance of organizational science: Paradigm development as a dependent variable.” Academy of Management Review, 18, 599–621.
  • Primecz, H., Romani, L., & Sackmann, S. (2009): “Multiple perspectives in Cross-Cultural Management.” International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, 9 (3), 267–274.
  • Primecz, H., Romani, L., & Topçu, K. (2015): “A Multi-paradigm Analysis of Cross-cultural Encounters.” In: N. Holden, S. Michailova & S. Tietze (eds.): The Routledge Companion to Cross-Cultural Management. London: Routledge, 431–439.
  • Romani, L., Primecz, H., & Topçu, K. (2011): “Paradigm interplay for theory development: A methodological example with the Kulturstandard method.” Organizational Research Methods, 14 (3), 432–455.
  • Schultz, M., & Hatch, M.J. (1996): “Living with multiple paradigms: The case of paradigm interplay in organizational culture studies.” Academy of Management Review, 21, 529–557.
  • Shepherd, C., & Challenger, R. (2013): “Revisiting paradigm (s) in management research: a rhetorical analysis of the paradigm wars.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 15 (2), 225–244.
  • Tsoukas, H., & Knudsen, C. (2005): The Oxford Handbook of Organization Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Henriett Primecz is Associate Professor at Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary. Her main research interest is multiparadigm approaches to organization studies, cross-cultural management, gender and diversity. She has published several journal articles on paradigm plurality and paradigm interplay among others in ‘Organization Research Methods’, ‘International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management’, and several book chapters on multiparadigm and critical research, e.g. in “The Routledge Companion to Cross-Cultural Management” and in “Critical Management Research in Eastern Europe Managing the Transition” (Palgrave).
John Hassard has published 16 books and 91 refereed journal articles. He publishes in leading research journals such as ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Industrial Relations’ and ‘Organization Studies’. Influential books include “Sociology and Organization Theory” and “Managing in the Modern Corporation” (both Cambridge). His revaluation of the Hawthorne Studies was awarded “Article of the Year 2012” in ‘Human Relations’.
Laurence Romani is Associate Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden. Her work focuses on issues of representation and interaction with ‘the other’ in respectful and enriching ways. Using multiple perspectives and paradigms, she considers in particular contributions from critical management, feminist and postcolonial organization studies to further cross-cultural management research and teaching. Laurence has published articles in journals such as ‘Organizational Research Method’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, ‘Academy of Management Learning and Education’ or the ‘International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management’ and multiple book chapters in international handbooks and edited volumes.