Sub-theme 09: [SWG] Balance in an Unbalanced World: Understanding Competing Demands through Paradox Theory

Jonathan Schad
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Camille Pradies
EDHEC Business School, France
Vontrese D. Pamphile
George Washington University, USA

Call for Papers

We live in an unbalanced world. Complex systemic issues or ‘grand challenges’ bring about seemingly irreconcilable demands at a vast scale (George et al., 2016). For instance, the management of COVID-19 has led to polarization about emphasizing economic activity or health and safety (Sharma et al., 2021). Calls for greater sustainability require reconciling profit and environmental impact (Hahn et al., 2014). Technological progress generates tremendous possibilities, yet increasingly reveals new challenges (Raisch & Krakowski, 2021). These developments take place simultaneously and the tensions associated with these challenges confront individuals, organizations, and society at large. Accordingly, tensions can be understood as ‘knotted’ with others (Sheep et al., 2017), nested across level of analysis (Jarzabkowski et al., 2013), and inherent in systems as well as socially constructed (Hahn & Knight, 2021; Smith & Lewis, 2011).
Paradox theory provides scholars unique access to understanding tensions in our unbalanced world. Defined as “persistent contradictions between interdependent elements” (Schad et al., 2016:  6), paradoxes defy resolution by choosing one side over another. Instead, effective responses to paradox seek to engage opposing sides and to identify tensions’ integrative and generative potential (Putnam et al., 2016). A key objective of research on paradoxical tensions has been understanding balance between competing demands (Smith & Lewis, 2011). Yet, this balancing act is constantly destabilized by a myriad of factors such as the rise of new forms of organizations (Battilana & Lee 2014), limited resources (Smith, 2014), actors’ lack of agency (Berti & Simpson, 2020), and a plurality of opinions (Ashforth & Reingen, 2014). Moreover, much existing research on paradox focuses on tensions that occur within organizations, thus leaving much to understand about whether and how to achieve balance amidst the grand challenges we face. Given these developments, recent research suggests exploring balance and imbalance, equilibrium and disequilibrium, and order and disorder (Cuhna & Putnam, 2019; Jarzabkowski et al., 2020).
In this sub-theme, we continue to welcome submissions that address paradox, dualities, and dialectics that explore contradicting, yet interdependent elements. However, we also look for new ways to extend our understanding of how paradoxical tensions impact our thinking and reflections on organizational life. Specifically, we invite papers that explore some of the following, illustrative questions:

  • Global tensions. How does a paradox lens inform our understanding of the competing demands that arise from grand challenges (e.g., global pandemics, climate change)? How does a focus on global challenges extend current theoretical understanding of paradox?

  • Balance and imbalance. What are the dynamics of balance and imbalance regarding organizational tensions? What can we learn from further examining the difficulties associated with balancing paradoxical demands? How does a focus on disequilibrium in addition to equilibrium challenge current assumptions in paradox theory? What is the dark side of seeking balance?

  • Nested and multi-level tensions. How do paradoxes arise at and across different levels of analyses (e.g., individual, team, organization, field)? How are tensions and paradoxes managed at different levels? How can looking at tensions across levels of analysis complicate and expand current understanding of organizational paradoxes?

  • Cross-organizational relationships. How can actors work together across organizational boundaries to address large-scale paradoxes? How does expanding our analytical lens outside the organizational boundary extend paradox theory?

  • Individual engagement with paradox. How do individuals’ values, cognition, and emotions shape the way they understand and respond to paradoxical tensions? How do various actors (e.g., front-line workers, professionals, leaders) engage with global and nested tensions? What do actors’ positions in the hierarchy and the type of power they hold mean for balancing paradoxical demands?



  • Ashforth, B.E., & Reingen, P.H. (2014): “Functions of dysfunction: Managing the dynamics of an organizational duality in a natural food cooperative.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 59 (3), 474–516.
  • Battilana, J., & Lee, M. (2014): “Advancing research on hybrid organizing–Insights from the study of social enterprises.” Academy of Management Annals, 8 (1), 397–441.
  • Berti, M., & Simpson, A.V. (2021): “The Dark Side of Organizational Paradoxes: The Dynamics of Disempowerment.” Academy of Management Review, 46 (2); first published online on April 29, 2021,
  • Cunha, M.P.E., & Putnam, L.L. (2019): “Paradox theory and the paradox of success.” Strategic Organization, 17 (1), 95–106.
  • George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., & Tihanyi, L. (2016): “Understanding and tackling societal grand challenges through management research.” Academy of Management Journal, 59 (6),1880–1895.
  • Hahn, T., & Knight, E. (2021): “The ontology of organizational paradox: a quantum approach.” Academy of Management Review, 46 (2), 362–384.
  • Hahn, T., Preuss, L., Pinkse, J., & Figge, F. (2014): “Cognitive frames in corporate sustainability: Managerial sensemaking with paradoxical and business case frames.” Academy of Management Review, 39(4), 463–487.
  • 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.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., Bednarek, R. Chalkias, K., & Cacciatori, E. (2020): A paradox theory of dynamic (dis)equilibrium: How interorganizational systems address grand challenges. Working Paper presented at the 36th EGOS Colloquium, July 2–4, 2020.
  • Putnam, L.L., Fairhurst, G.T., & Banghart, S.G. (2016): “Contradictions, dialectics, and paradoxes in organizations: A constitutive approach.” Academy of Management Annals, 10 (1), 65–171.
  • Raisch, S., & Krakowski, S. (2021): “Artificial Intelligence and Management: The Automation-Augmentation Paradox.” Academy of Management Review, 46 (1), 192–210.
  • Schad, J., Lewis, M.W., Raisch, S., & Smith, W.K. (2016): “Paradox research in management science: Looking back to move forward.” Academy of Management Annals, 10 (1), 5–64.
  • Sharma, G., Bartunek, J., Buzzanell, P., Carmine, S., Endres, M., Etter, M., Fairhurst, G., Hahn, T., Le, P., Li, X., Pamphile, V., Pradies, C., Putnam, L,, Rocheville, K., Schad, J., Sheep, M., & Keller, J. (2021): “A paradox approach to societal tensions during the pandemic crisis.” Journal of Management Inquiry, 30 (2), 121–137.
  • 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.K. (2014): “Dynamic decision making: A model of senior leaders managing strategic paradoxes.” Academy of Management Journal, 57 (6), 1592–1623.
  • 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.
Jonathan Schad is an Associate Professor at Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam, School of Business & Economics, The Netherlands. Jonathan’s work on paradox has been published in journal such as ‘Academy of Management Annals’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Strategic Organization’, ‘Journal of Management Inquiry’, and ‘Research in the Sociology of Organizations’.
Camille Pradies is an Assistant Professor of Management at EDHEC Business School, France. Her research focuses on paradoxes and emotions such as ambivalence at the individual and group levels and on the organizational and institutional conditions that influence them. Camille’s research has been published or is forthcoming in ‘Organization Science’, ‘Organization Studies’, and ‘Journal of Management Inquiry’.
Vontrese D. Pamphile is an Assistant Professor of Strategic Management and Public Policy at George Washington School of Business, George Washington University, USA. Her research focuses on the management of business-society tensions and paradoxes. Voni’s research has been published or is forthcoming in ‘Social Networks’ and ‘Journal of Management Inquiry’.