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We have to do this and that? You must be joking: Constructing and responding to paradox through humour

Jarzabkowski, P. & Lê, J. (2016). We have to do this and that? You must be joking: Constructing and responding to paradox through humour. Organization Studies, 38(3-4), pp. 433-462. doi: 10.1177/0170840616640846


This paper adopts a practice approach to paradox, examining the role of micro-practices in shaping constructions of and responses to paradox. Our approach is inductively motivated. During an ethnographic study of an organization implementing paradoxical goals we noticed a strong incidence of humor, joking and laughter. Examining this practice closely, we realized that humor was used to surface, bring attention to, and make communicable experience of paradox in the moment by drawing out some specific contradiction in their work. Humor thus allowed actors to socially construct paradox, as well as - in interaction with others – construct potential responses to the multiple small incidences of paradox in their everyday work. In doing so, humor cast the interactional dynamics that were integral in constructing two response paths: (i) ‘entrenching a response’, whereby an existing response was affirmed, thereby continuing on a particular response path, and (ii) ‘shifting a response’, whereby actors moved from one response to paradox to another, thereby altering how the team collectively responded to paradoxical issues. Drawing on these findings, we reconceptualize paradox as a characteristic of everyday life, which is constructed and responded to in the moment.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © Sage 2015
Publisher Keywords: Business And Management
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Departments: Bayes Business School
SWORD Depositor:
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