chapter  7
Ambiguity, contradiction and paradox in the natural sciences: creative entanglement between the knower and the known
Pages 22

In Chapter 1, I rehearsed some of the arguments exploring the scientific basis for management, and what it means to be scientific about the social. I set out some of the thinking of those management scholars who argue that it is, and that it should develop more and more evidence of ‘what works’. The aspiration that management could be considered a scientific discipline is also a longing for certainty, or at least, of being more certain that one course of action is more likely to be effective in organizational terms than another. I mentioned that in general, natural science disciplines abhor a contradiction, since formally they would consider it weak thinking. In public at least, natural scientists have low tolerance of uncertainty, contradictions and paradoxes. However, in this chapter I will explore the work of some scholars of different

natural science disciplines, many of them practising scientists themselves, who are interested in the uncertain, the ambiguous and the paradoxical in scientific concepts and practice. The reason for doing this is to demonstrate the ways in which natural scientific method is itself problematized by historians of science, some of its practitioners and theorists alike, and to destabilize the idea that there can be a single and naïve view of scientific method which portrays science as being everywhere the same and all of a piece. In general the literature I draw on in this chapter tries to take a view on the metaphysical debate about whether nature and laws about nature are discovered or created by paying attention to how science is practised. Some of the scholars I adduce refer to their perspective as a pragmatic theory of

science, or in some cases an agentic theory (people, and perhaps even objects, act

or proscribe action, and so demonstrate agency), and argue that science is a practice alongside other practices. Science is a particularly disciplined response to specific problems which arise at particular periods in human development, and is socially and historically situated. These scholars make the case that scientific insight emerges from the contingent, messy reality of social life, and does so because scientists make productive use of the very uncertainty, contradiction and indeterminacy where problem and solution are co-present. The reason this is important for my argument in this book as a whole, is that

I am trying to persuade the reader similarly that this is also true in our experience of the social, particularly if we are concerned to manage people and develop organizations. Rather than relying solely on the helpful but inadequate tools and techniques of management, which aim to simplify and reduce, creativity and innovation arise from the ambiguous, the contradictory and the paradoxical. The complexity of organizational life can never by contained by formal tools and approaches, and will constantly burst through the methods designed to contain it. In pragmatic terms the best we can produce is what helps us to take the next step together, by which time we may be facing a completely different set of problems. Of course, the argument I am making is hotly contested within the natural sciences

and contingent disciplines such as science and technology studies.