Sub-theme 35: Paradox Theory and Research: Constituting Tensions, Power and Discourse

Ina Aust-Gronarz
Louvain School of Management, Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium
Anne Keegan
Amsterdam Business School, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Linda L. Putnam
University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Call for Papers

Studies of paradox and elaborations of paradox theory have grown substantially over the past two decades (Smith & Lewis, 2011). This sub-theme seeks to fuel this growing community, enabling deeper insights into interwoven issues of paradox and relations with tensions, power and discourse. Extant research strongly indicates that paradox is ubiquitous and inevitable in complex organizational systems involving, for example, aspects such as innovation (Andriopoulos & Lewis, 2009), sustainability (Ehnert, 2009; Hahn et al., 2014) and human resource management (Keegan & Francis, 2010).

We call for papers from scholars whose research attends to the processes of constituting paradox through discourse to provide a valuable extension to paradox theory. At the same time, the growing body of knowledge on paradox can also stimulate insights on factors that foster or constrain communication that leads to paradoxical organizing strategies (Cooren et al., 2011). Possibilities include attention to struggles over authorship of collective texts (e.g. HRM policies, sustainability discourses) that produce or reduce paradoxical perspectives on tensions and guide actors' responses to tensions. Research might focus on conflicting/intersecting flows of organizational discourse (e.g. on sustainability) and how these shape the possibilities for (paradoxical) responses from organizations and their members. With this call for papers we hope to stimulate new insights into how power, discourse, language and tensions foster or downplay paradoxical perspectives and (dis)order possibilities for social action in the face of recurring, interdependent and persistent tensions in organizations.

EGOS has fostered a growing and vibrant community of paradox scholars. The paradox sub-themes held at EGOS 2010 (Lisbon), 2012 (Helsinki), 2013 (Montreal), and 2014 (Rotterdam) "energized", "explored", "embraced", then "leveraged" paradoxes, respectively, to fuel alternative understandings and approaches to organizing. From this base, we now ask how a paradox lens might enable insights into the roles of tensions, power, and discourse in enabling human and organizational sustainability. Our goal is to share and inspire research that enables actors and firms to thrive in both the short and long-run. We invite papers that explore some of the following, illustrative questions:

  • What are the dynamics and tensions surrounding sustainability paradoxes? Do grassroots initiatives as 'subversive and unconventional realities' do more or less to foster paradoxical perspectives linked to issues of sustainability?
  • How might a paradox lens contribute insights on the 'human side' of organizational and management tensions?
  • Does current paradox theory sufficiently highlight aspects of power, discourse and influence and what are the blind spots?
  • How do hidden and overt arenas of power coexist and interact to enable or impede actors' abilities to cope with paradoxes in daily life?
  • Are some organizational and managerial discourses more inclined to support and/or mitigate against the adoption of paradox perspectives on organizational tensions?




  • Andriopoulos, C., & Lewis, M.W. (2009): "Exploitation-Exploration Tensions and Organizational Ambidexterity: Managing Paradoxes of Innovation." Organization Science, 20 (4), 696–717.
  • Cooren, F., Kuhn, T., Cornelissen, J.P., & Clark, T. (2011): "Communication, Organizing and Organization: An Overview and Introduction to the Special Issue." Organization Studies, 32 (9), 1149–1170.
  • Ehnert, I. (2009): Sustainable Human Resource Management. A conceptual and exploratory analysis from a paradox perspective. Heidelberg: Springer.
  • Keegan, A., & Francis, H. (2010): "Practitioner Talk: The Changing Textscape of HRM and Emergence of HR Business Partnership." The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 21 (6), 873–898.
  • Hahn, T., Pinkse, J., Preuss, L., & Figge, F. (2014): "Tensions in Corporate Sustainability: Towards and Integrative Framework." Journal of Business Ethics, 127 (2), 297–316.
  • Smith, W.K., & Lewis, M.W. (2011): "Toward a Theory of Paradox: A Dynamic Equilibrium Model of Organizing." Academy of Management Review, 36 (2), 381–403.


Ina Aust-Gronarz is Professor of HRM specialized in CSR/sustainability at the Louvain School of Management, Belgium. Ina has attended the EGOS paradox sub-theme at the EGOS Colloquia 2010, 2012 and 2013 and served as a main convenor of the paradox sub-theme at the EGOS Colloquium 2014 in Rotterdam.
Anne Keegan is Associate Professor of HRM specialized in temporary and project based organizations at Amsterdam Business School, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She is interested in a discursive, linguistic and communication perspective on paradox and management. Anne attended the paradox sub-theme at the EGOS Colloquium 2014 in Rotterdam.
Linda L. Putnam is a Research Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA. Her research focuses on contradictions, dialectics, and paradoxes in negotiation and organizational conflicts. She has also examined the role of organizational dialectics and paradoxes in gender studies, especially through a discourse lens. Linda attended the EGOS Colloquium 2015 in Athens and has been involved in numerous convention panels and keynote presentations on contradictions and organizational paradoxes.