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Paradox as a Metatheoretical Perspective

Lewis, M. W. & Smith, W. K. (2014). Paradox as a Metatheoretical Perspective. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 50(2), pp. 127-149. doi: 10.1177/0021886314522322


Organizations are rife with tensions – flexibility vs. control, exploration vs. exploitation, autocracy vs. democracy, social vs. financial, global vs. local. Researchers have long responded using contingency theory, asking “under what conditions should managers emphasize either A or B?” Yet increasingly studies apply a paradox perspective, shifting the question to: “how can we engage both A and B simultaneously?” Despite accumulating exemplars, commonalities across paradox studies remain unclear, and ties unifying this research community weak. To energize further uses of a paradox perspective, we build from past reviews to explicate its role as a metatheory. Contrasting this lens to contingency theory, we illustrate its meta-theoretical nature. We then dive deeper to sharpen the focus and widen the scope of a paradox perspective. Identifying core elements viewed from a paradox perspective – underlying assumptions, central concepts, nature of interrelationships and boundary conditions – offers a guide, informing the practice of paradox research. Next, we illustrate diverse uses of this lens. We conclude by exploring implications and next steps, stressing the rising need for paradox research, as complexity, change and ambiguity intensify demands for both/and approaches in theory and practice.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Copyright Sage 2014.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
Departments: Bayes Business School > Management
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