Sub-theme 09: [SWG] Unpacking Paradoxical Nestedness across Level of Analysis

Wendy K. Smith
University of Delaware, USA
Josh Keller
UNSW Sydney, Australia
Medhanie Gaim
Umeå University, Sweden

Call for Papers

Building inclusive societies involves underlying paradoxes that pervade levels of analysis. An employee might struggle to find a new job within her organization that can advance her career yet with flexible hours for handling caregiving duties. An employer might grapple to figure out how to ensure a more diverse workforce while facing an acute shortage of available workers. Government and society leaders might seek to develop labour policies that provides rights across all citizens while allowing organizations to have more choice and flexibility. These tensions depict the paradoxes underlying efforts toward a more inclusive society. They also highlight the nested nature of paradox; while these tensions appear to be unrelated and at distinct levels, they define and inform one another. In this sub-theme of the EGOS Standing Working Group (SWG) 09 on “Organizational Paradox: Engaging Plurality, Tensions and Contradictions”, we seek to advance scholarship that explores the paradoxes broadly and, more specifically, the paradoxes of inclusivity and the nested nature of paradoxical tensions.
Paradox theory has emerged as a meta-theory for examining paradoxical tensions (Smith & Lewis, 2011; Lewis & Smith, 2014). Paradox denotes contradictory yet interrelated elements that persist over time (Schad et al., 2016). Paradoxes co-occur (Andriopoulos & Lewis, 2009; Jarzabkowski et al., 2013) and are interwoven: thus, not easily separated (Sheep et al., 2019). As a result, organization members combine paradoxes, where one could impact another (Schad et al., 2016). Moreover, paradox theory highlights that tensions exist at all levels of analyses – from the individual to the organization to the society – and that tensions can be nested within tensions (Andriopoulos & Lewis, 2009; Jarzabkowski et al., 2013; Sheep et al., 2017). The salience of tensions that are experienced at each level of analysis can be further impacted by both macro-level structure and micro-level cognition and emotions. Paradox theory therefore provides a theoretical lens for examining how systemic tensions such as inclusion and exclusion, are instantiated at different levels and how the tensions inform one another across levels of analyses.
Connecting levels of analyses cannot be limited to isolating each level within specific contexts, as the salience of tensions and actors’ responses may also be shaped by how the actor is simultaneously situated within both micro-level and macro-level contexts (Gilbert et al., 2018; Keller et al., 2020). This includes macro-level structures and micro-level power dynamics that shape actors’ experience of salient tensions and macro-level logics and micro-level thoughts and emotions that shape the underlying cognitive processes that actors use to interpret and respond to the tensions.
In this sub-theme, we welcome all submissions that advance our understanding of paradoxes, tensions, dualities, and dialectics at any level of analysis. We embrace multiple theoretical perspectives (e.g., institutional theory, social network theory, critical theory) and multiple methodologies (e.g., experiments, ethnographies and archival studies). We are particularly interested in scholarly work that examine paradoxes at multiple levels (e.g., the individual, the team, the organization, the industry, the field and the society), and the cross-level mechanisms that connect each level.
While we welcome papers on paradox broadly, we hope to address some of these specific themes:

  • Paradoxes of inclusivity. We invite papers that explore the paradoxical nature of diversity and inclusion as experienced at the individual, team, organizational or society level, as well as across levels of analysis.

  • Nested paradoxes across levels. If paradoxes are nested and intertwined: what is the theoretical implication of examining paradoxes that nest within and unlock other paradoxes (Pina e Cunha & Putnam, 2019) and tensional knots: multiple sets of intertwined tensions (Sheep et al., 2017)? For example, how do societal-level tensions (e.g., tensions between inclusion and exclusion) manifest within organizations and their members? How can one paradox at one level trigger, mitigate or amplify other paradoxes at different levels of analysis (ibid)?

  • Implications of nested paradoxes. What are the normative implications of how organizations manage societal-level tensions (e.g., tensions between exclusion and inclusion)? How do organizations deal with the boundary of inclusion? At an individual level, a desired to be included bring the fear of vulnerability (Luscher & Lewis, 2008) triggering the tension between self and the other. Because moving towards the collective threatens individuality, how do organization actors respond to the tension of self and the other?

  • Societal-level paradoxes and their implications. Although recent development in human values have forced individuals to be cognizant of others’ values beyond their self-interest, there seem to be a re-emphasis of separation and tribalism, where empathy within the tribe but antipathy to those that the tribe others, is at a premium. What is the organizational implication of such changes in the society to the paradox of self and the other at organization levels? How do societal-level factors influence the tensions that organizational actors experience on the ground and their responses to those tensions?

  • Microfoundations of nested paradoxes. How do individuals experience nested paradoxes on the ground (Miron-Spektor et al., 2018)? Do macro-level factors impact the way individuals experience nested tensions on the ground (Keller et al., 2017; Keller et al., 2018)? How do micro-level factors inform our understanding of macro-level processes (Keller et al., 2020)?

  • Nested paradoxes and unintended consequences. When multiple and nested, how do responding to tensions across levels give rise to unintended consequences (Gaim et al., 2019)? Can nested tensions bring about the promise-practise gap? Can nested tensions reveal dark side as organizations and their actors engage in transforming society?

  • New theories and methods to study multiple and nested paradoxes. What new theories and methodologies can help inform us of multiple tensions and the cross-level relationships between tensions? This includes, for example, multi-level surveys, multiple site ethnographies, or simulations that capture multi-level processes.



  • Andriopoulos, C., & Lewis, M.W. (2009): “Exploitation-Exploration Tensions and Organizational Ambidexterity: Managing Paradoxes of Innovation.” Organization Science, 20 (4), 696–717.
  • Gaim, M., Clegg, S., & Pina e Cunha, M. (2019): “Managing impressions rather than emissions: Volkswagen and the false mastery of paradox.” Organization Studies, first published online on December 16, 2019:
  • Gilbert, F., Michaud, V., Bentein, K., Dubois, C.-A., & Bédard, J.-L. (2018): “Unpacking the Dynamics of Paradoxes across Levels: Cascading Tensions and Struggling Professionals.” In: M. Farjoun, W. Smith, A. Langley, & H. Tsoukas (eds.): Dualities, Dialectics, and Paradoxes in Organizational Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 56–81.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., Lê, J.K., & Van de Ven, A.H. (2013): “Responding to competing strategic demands: How organizing, belonging, and performing paradoxes coevolve.” Strategic Organization, 11 (3), 245–280.
  • Keller, J., Loewenstein, J., & Yan, J. (2017): “Culture, conditions and paradoxical frames.” Organization Studies, 38 (3–4), 539–560.
  • Keller, J., Wen Chen, E., & Leung, A.K.-Y. (2018): “How national culture influences individuals’ subjective experience with paradoxical tensions.” Cross Cultural & Strategic Management, 25 (3), 443–467.
  • Keller, J., Wong, S.-S., & Liou, S. (2020): “How social networks facilitate collective responses to organizational paradoxes.” Human Relations, 73 (3), 401–428.
  • Lewis, M., & Smith, W. (2014): “Paradox as a Metatheoretical Perspective: Sharpening the Focus and Widening the Scope.” The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 50 (2), 127–149.
  • Luscher, L.S., & Lewis, M.W. (2008): “Organizational change and managerial sensemaking: Working through paradox.” Academy of Management Journal, 51 (2), 221–240.
  • Miron-Spektor, E., Ingram, A., Keller, J., Smith, W., & Lewis, M. (2018): “Microfoundations of organizational paradox: The problem is how we think about the problem.” Academy of Management Journal, 61 (1), 26–45.
  • Pina e Cunha, M., & Putnam, L.L. (2019): “Paradox theory and the paradox of success.” Strategic Organization, 17 (1), 95–106.
  • Schad, J., Lewis, M., Raisch, S., & Smith, W. (2016): “Paradoxical research in Management Science: Looking Backward to Move Forward.” Academy of Management Annals, 10 (1), 5–64.
  • Sheep, M.L., Fairhurst, G.T., & Khazanchi, S. (2017): “Knots in the discourse of innovation: Investigating multiple tensions in a reacquired spin-off.” Organization Studies, 38 (3–4), 463–488.
  • Smith, W., & Lewis, M. (2011): “Towards a theory of paradox: a dynamic equilibrium model of organizing.” Academy of Management Review, 36 (2), 381–403.
Wendy K. Smith is Professor of Management at the Lerner College for Business and Economics at the University of Delaware, USA. Her research explores how leaders and organizations navigate ongoing strategic paradoxes, such as those between today and tomorrow, global integration and local adaptation, social mission and financial performance. Her research has been published in journals such as ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Management Science,’ and ‘Harvard Business Review’.
Josh Keller is Associate Professor of Management in the UNSW Business School at UNSW Sydney, Australia. His research focuses on the cultural and cognitive foundations of organizational and strategic paradoxes. His work has been published in ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Organization Studies’, and ‘Research in the Sociology of Organizations’.
Medhanie Gaim is Assistant Professor of Management and Wallander post-doctoral fellow at Umeå School of Business, Economics, and Statistics, Umeå University, Sweden. His research focuses predominantly on paradox theory. Medhanie’s earlier works have been published in ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Research in Sociology of Organizations’, and ‘European Management Journal’, among others.