Sub-theme 09: (SWG) The Lived Experiences of Paradoxes: Passions, Defenses and Competing Demands

Camille Pradies
EDHEC Business School, France
Wendy K. Smith
University of Delaware, USA
Russ Vince
University of Bath, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

Paradoxes pervade our organizational experiences. These ‘contradictory, yet interdependent elements’ (Smith & Lewis, 2011) challenge our established certainties, while inviting our untapped creativity. Their dynamic, uncertain nature elicits strong emotional responses. Effectively seeing and engaging the power of paradox depends on the ability to be vulnerable and open, yet often their ambiguous and complex nature triggers defensiveness and resistance. Moreover, emotions themselves are often paradoxical – joy can elicit melancholy, while melancholy is often a precursor to joy. Even as our emotions critically inform our experience of paradox, our scholarship offers little insight into this relationship, focusing more acutely on the role of cognition and action (Schad et al., 2016).
In this sub-theme, we continue to welcome research and scholarship that broadly addresses issues of organizational paradox. However, we also want to shine a light on the role of emotions in paradox, inviting scholars to question, examine and illuminate how we experience and respond to interdependent contradictions.
Take, for example, the overall EGOS 2017 theme, “The Good Organization – Aspirations, Interventions, Struggles”. Goodness is rarely straightforward and positive. It can be tinged with envy, conceal hatred, or provide the basis of emotive strategies for control. Within leadership roles, for example, we are not always aware of the interdependence of harm and helpfulness in our leadership behavior (Vince & Mazen, 2014). We hope and aspire to be ‘good’ leaders at the same time as we project the emotional force of our ‘unwanted self’ as a leader onto others (Petriglieri & Stein, 2012). The ongoing tensions and contradictions of our experience within such roles provide an opportunity to recognize organizations as complex environments of contrasting yet intersecting affective dynamics.
It will be useful to examine further the everyday experiences, dynamics and impact of emotions such as ambivalence or anxiety that produce persistent, contradictory individual and collective experience. For example, ambivalence may surface latent paradoxical tensions and enhance our understanding of organizational life (Ashforth et al., 2014; Pratt & Pradies, 2011).
In addition, there is a resurgence of interest in the inseparability of affect and power (Kenny & Fotaki, 2014; Thompson & Willmott, 2015). Also, explorations of psychoanalytic theory and paradox (Jarrett & Vince, 2017) may offer opportunities to better understand the impact of unconscious dynamics in generating contradictions, as well as the political effects of fantasy. Finding ways to study the paradoxical tensions mobilized by unconscious responses, defenses and fantasies can help us to understand more about the role of persistent contradictions in both limiting and liberating individual and collective behavior. Through a paradox lens we may be able to discover more about affective contradictions and their everyday practical and political implications in organizations.
EGOS has provided a strong community for paradox scholars. In this Call for Papers, we continue to invite scholars to explore the dynamics of paradox broadly. We also hope this sub-theme will extend previous insights from an EGOS paradox sub-theme to invite a focus on theoretical and empirical papers that contribute to understanding the paradoxical interplay of emotions in organizations; emotional dynamics and processes of organizing that generate and support ongoing tensions; and the paradoxical links between emotions and power relations. There are several current avenues of scholarship on emotions that seem highly relevant to paradox studies. We outline some below:

  • How can paradox studies help to understand the continuous interplay between rationality and emotion in organizations?
  • In what ways can a paradox lens help us to comprehend affect as central to social and political analysis?
  • What is the role of emotions – anxiety, ambivalence, vulnerability – in sustaining or leveraging paradoxical tensions? What are the consequences for management and organization?
  • How can a paradox lens help to shine a new light on collective emotional dynamics?
  • How can paradox studies help us to understand and improve existing theories of emotion and affect in organizations? How does paradox help us understand the relationship between different emotions? Or the relationship between emotions and cognition?



  • Ashforth, B.E., Rogers, K.M., Pratt, M.G., & Pradies, C. (2014): “Ambivalence in organizations: A multilevel approach.” Organization Science, 25 (5), 1453–1478.
  • Kenny, K., & Fotaki, M. (2014): The Psychosocial and Organization Studies. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Jarrett, M., & Vince, R. (2017): “With a Shadow of a Doubt: Emotion and the psychoanalytic foundations of organizational paradox.” In: M.W. Lewis, W.K. Smith, P.Jarzabkowski & A. Langley (eds.): The Handbook of Organizational Paradox: Approaches to Plurality, Tensions and Contradictions. Oxford: Oxford University Press [forthcoming].
  • Petriglieri, G., & Stein, M. (2012): “The unwanted self: Projective identification in leaders identity work.” Organization Studies, 33, 1217–1235.
  • Thompson, M., & Willmott, H. (2015): “The social potency of affect: Identification and power in the immanent structuring of practice.” Human Relations, 69 (2), 483–506.
  • Pratt, M.G., & Pradies, C. (2011): “Just a good place to visit? Exploring positive responses to psychological ambivalence.” In: K. Cameron & G. Spencer (eds.): Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 924–937.
  • Schad, J., Lewis, M., Raisch, S., & Smith, W.K. (2016): “Paradox research in management science: The first 25 years and the next 25 years.” Academy of Management Annals [in press].
  • 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.
  • Vince, R., & Mazen, M. (2014): “Violent Innocence: A Contradiction at the Heart of Leadership.” Organization Studies, 35 (2), 189–207.
Camille Pradies is Assistant Professor of Management at EDHEC Business School, France. Her research focuses on ambivalence and identity at the individual and group levels and on the organizational and institutional conditions that influence them.
Wendy K. Smith is Associate Professor of Management in the Department of Business Administration, Lerner College of Business and Economics, University of Delaware, USA, and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Judge School of Business, University of Cambridge, UK. Her research focuses on managing strategic paradoxes, including exploring/exploiting and social/financial goals.
Russ Vince is Professor of Leadership and Change in the School of Management, University of Bath, UK, and Honorary Professor of Management at the University of St. Andrews, UK. His research has contributed to our understanding of emotion, reflection, learning, leadership and change in organizations.