Sub-theme 34: Exploring Paradox’ Meta-Theoretical Potential for Theorizing

Jonathan Schad
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Miguel Pina e Cunha
Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, Portugal
Natalie Slawinski
University of Victoria, Canada

Call for Papers

Theorizing complex phenomena is at the heart of our discipline. However, such theorizing is challenging. Recent discussions have diagnosed a theory crisis (Suddaby, Hardy & Huy, 2011) and a mismatch between theory and practice (Cronin, Stouten, & van Knippenberg, 2021). This requires theories that help describe and explain the complexity of our time. Rather than a crisis, we see this as an opportunity for bold theorizing with more encompassing theories. In particular, paradoxical thinking offers opportunities for theorizing as it allows researchers to explore competing explanations. This may be helpful to understand recent phenomena such as increasing polarization in our society, irreconcilable goals that organizations confront, and individuals’ struggles with competing roles and identities.
To study such phenomena, paradox research has come a long way (Berti et al., 2021; Putnam et al., 2016). Paradox theory is now widely used and an established lens to better understand persistent tensions in organizations (Lewis, 2000; Smith & Lewis, 2011). Increasingly, paradox is also used as a management tool by executives and in business education (Pina e Cunha et al., 2022; Tjemkes & Mihalache, 2021). While both areas are flourishing, less work has been done on using paradox for theorizing. This is surprising since Poole and Van de Ven’s seminal paper (1989) was on how paradoxes can be leveraged to build theories. Further, recent work discusses theorizing as a paradoxical process itself (Clegg et al., 2022; Schad, Lewis, & Smith, 2019). We seek to connect to this tradition to help establish paradox as an important theorizing tool. This is an opportunity to further explore paradox as a meta-theory (Lewis & Smith, 2014; Schad et al., 2016) and to explore links to related approaches, such as dialectics (Farjoun & Fiss, 2021; Hargrave & Van de Ven, 2017) and duality (Farjoun, 2010) in organizational theorizing.
In this sub-theme, we continue to welcome submissions that address paradox, dualities, and dialectics that explore contradictory, yet interdependent elements. However, we also look for new ways to theorize using paradox. Such submissions may address some of the following, illustrative questions:

  • Exploring the meta-theoretical potential of paradox. Paradox has been qualified as a meta-theory (Lewis & Smith, 2014) – a theory of theories. What is the meta-theoretical potential of paradox? How can paradox contribute and add nuance to other theoretical domains? What are the challenges in combining theories as complementary lenses.

  • Interdisciplinary theorizing. There is increasing interest in drawing on multiple disciplines to understand complex phenomena (Bednarek et al., 2021). How can different, sometimes conflicting disciplines, be used in theorizing? What are possibilities to identify complementarities among disciplines? How can paradox help translate insights from disciplines to establish a common ground?

  • New ways of theorizing. Increasingly, new ways of theorizing are proposed (Sætre & Van de Ven, 2021). How can paradox open up new pathways for theorizing? What are promising ways to achieve bold theorizing? What are the challenges to write such theories?

  • The performative side of theorizing. Management theories do not only describe but may also shape social reality (Marti & Gond, 2018). By seeing the world through a paradox lens, what could be the consequences for theorizing? Could articulating reality as paradoxical actualize paradoxes?

  • Theorizing new phenomena. Many recent phenomena, such as responsibility and sustainability require combining seemingly irreconcilable goals (Hahn et al., 2014; Van der Byl & Slawinski, 2015). How can paradox help theorize emergent phenomena such as agile organizing (Rigby et al., 2020), artificial intelligence (Raisch & Krakowski, 2021), and open innovation (Lifshitz-Assaf, 2018)?

  • Bridges between theories. Theorizing complexity may require drawing from multiple paradigms (Lewis & Grimes, 1999). How can other views inform our theorizing, such as sociology (Seidl, Lê, & Jarzabkowski, 2021), quantum physics (Hahn & Knight, 2021), and temporality (Slawinski & Bansal, 2015).

  • Theorizing the Good Life. Recent work on positive organizational scholarship has highlighted the role of paradox in the construction of positive organizations (Pina e Cunha et al., 2020). Can a good life be a paradoxical life? Are paradox and “both-and” thinking helpful or hindering the good life? What is our role as scholars in the good life (Howard-Grenville, 2021)?

In summary, we aim to engage the meta-theoretical potential of paradox to explore how it can help us theorize the humanity’s complex, persistent, and wicked problems.


  • Bednarek, R., Pina e Cunha, M., Schad, J., & Smith, W. (2021): “The value of interdisciplinary research to advance paradox in organization theory.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 73 (A), 3–25.
  • Berti, M., Simpson, A.V., Pina e Cunha, M., & Clegg, S. (2021): Elgar Introduction to Organizational Paradox Theory. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
  • Clegg, S., Pina e Cunha, M., & Berti, M. (2022): “Research movements and theorizing dynamics in management and organization studies.” Academy of Management Review, 47 (3), first published online on July 18, 2022,
  • Cronin, M.A., Stouten, J., & van Knippenberg, D. (2021): “The theory crisis in management research: Solving the right problem.” Academy of Management Review, 46 (4), 667–683.
  • Farjoun, M. (2010): “Beyond dualism: Stability and change as a duality.” Academy of Management Review, 35 (2), 202–225.
  • Farjoun, M., & Fiss, P.C. (2021): “Thriving on contradiction: Towards a dialectical alternative to fit-based models in strategy (and beyond).” Strategic Management Journal, 43 (2), 340–369.
  • Hahn, T., Pinkse, J., Preuss, L., & Figge, F. (2015): “Tensions in Corporate Sustainability Towards an Integrative Framework.” Journal of Business Ethics, 127 (2), 297–316.
  • Hahn, T. ,& Knight, E. (2021): “The ontology of organizational paradox: A quantum approach.” Academy of Management Review, 46 (2), 362–384.
  • Hargrave, T.J. ,& Van de Ven, A.H. (2017): “Integrating dialectical and paradox perspectives on managing contradictions in organizations.” Organization Studies, 38 (3–4), 319–339.
  • Howard-Grenville, J. (2021): “Caring, courage and curiosity: Reflections on our roles as scholars in organizing for a sustainable future.” Organization Theory, 2 (1), first published online on February 8, 2021,
  • Lewis, M.W., & Smith, W.K. (2014): “Paradox as a metatheoretical perspective: Sharpening the focus and widening the scope.” Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 50 (2), 127–149.
  • Lifshitz-Assaf, H. (2018): “Dismantling knowledge boundaries at NASA: The critical role of professional identity in open innovation.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 63 (4), 746–82.
  • Marti, E. ,& Gond, J.P. (2018): “When do theories become self-fulfilling? Exploring the boundary conditions of performativity.” Academy of Management Review, 43 (3), 487–508.
  • Pina e Cunha, M., López, A., Van Dierendonck, D., Schad, J., Giustiniano, L., Gaim, M., Jarzabkowski, P., & Raisch, S. (eds.) (2022): Paradoxes of Management and Organization. Short Cases for Pedagogical Use. Lisbon: Sílabo.
  • Pina e Cunha, M., Rego, A., Simpson, A.V., & Clegg, S. (2020): Positive Organizational Behaviour: A Reflective Approach. London: Routledge.
  • Poole, M.S., & Van de Ven, A.H. (1989): “Using paradox to build management and organization theories.” Academy of Management Review, 14 (4), 562–578.
  • 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), 65–107.
  • Raisch, S., & Krakowski, S. (2021): “Artificial intelligence and management: The automation–augmentation paradox.” Academy of Management Review, 46 (1), 192–210.
  • Rigby, D., Elk, S., & Berez, S. (2020): Doing Agile Right: Transformation without Chaos. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
  • Sætre, A.S., & Van de Ven, A.H. (2021): “Generating Theory by Abduction.” Academy of Management Review, 46 (4), 684–701.
  • 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.
  • Schad, J., Lewis, M.W., & Smith, W.K. (2019): “Quo vadis, paradox? Centripetal and centrifugal forces in theory development.” Strategic Organization, 17 (1), 107–119.
  • Seidl, D., Lê, J., & Jarzabkowski, P. (2021): “The generative potential of Luhmann’s theorizing for paradox research: Decision paradox and deparadoxization.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 73b, 49–64.
  • Slawinski, N., & Bansal, P. (2015): “Short on time: Intertemporal tensions in business sustainability.” Organization Science, 26 (2), 531–549.
  • Smith, W.K., & Lewis, M.W. (2011): “Towards a theory of paradox: A dynamic equilibrium model of organizing.” Academy of Management Review, 36 (2), 381–403.
  • Suddaby, R., Hardy, C., & Huy, Q.N. (2011): “Where are the new theories of organization?” Academy of Management Review, 36 (2), 236–246.
  • Tjemkes, B., & Mihalache, O. (eds.) (2021): Transformative Strategies: Strategic Thinking in the Age of Globalization, Disruption, Collaboration and Responsibility. London: Routledge.
  • Van der Byl, C.A. & Slawinski, N. (2015): “Embracing tensions in corporate sustainability: A review of research from win-wins and trade-offs to paradoxes and beyond.” Organization & Environment, 28 (1), 54–79.
Jonathan Schad is an Associate Professor in Strategy and Organization at the School of Business and Economics, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His work on paradox has been published in outlets such as the ‘Academy of Management Annals’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, and ‘Strategic Organization’.
Miguel Pina e Cunha is the Fundação Amélia de Mello Professor at the School of Business and Economics (SBE), Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, Portugal. He is a co-author of the “Elgar Introduction to Organizational Paradox Theory” (Elgar, 2021), “Positive Organizational Behaviour: A Reflective Approach” (Routledge, 2020), “Elements in Organizational Paradox” (Cambridge University Press, 2021), and “Elgar Introduction to Organizational Improvisation Theory” (Elgar, 2022). Recent articles appeared in the ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Journal of Management’, ‘Organization Studies’, and ‘Strategic Organization’.
Natalie Slawinski is a Professor of Sustainability and Strategy and Director of the Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation at the Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, Canada. Her research focuses on understanding sustainability, temporality and paradoxes in organizations, and has been published in such journals as ‘Organization Science’, ‘Strategic Management Journal’, and ‘Organization Studies’.