chapter  2
Taking paradox seriously
Pages 22

In the introductory chapter I set out the case for taking contradictions and paradoxes seriously as a way to help us think about the difficulties, dilemmas and ambiguities that arise daily in organizational life. And of course I am by no means the first person to recommend this. In this chapter I explore how other thinkers and organizational scholars have written about ambiguity, contradiction and in particular paradox, to compare and contrast between my position and theirs. This is also a dialectical process, a back and forth between what I take other scholars’ ideas to be and my own in order to provoke my own thinking, and hopefully that of the reader. Thinking moves in the making of distinctions. Of course, there is no intention on my part to reach a reconciliation of positions, or to claim I have truth on my side. This will not prevent me from setting out my critique strongly, however. I hope the process will better clarify their position as well as my own. First it means engaging further with what I take paradox to be and to see how

other sociologists and philosophers have dealt with it. The reason for doing so is that their ideas often show up in organizational literature. For example, those thinkers like Luhmann who consider a paradox to be a property of a system are taken up in work by organizational scholars who also make the same assumption. What this often leads to is that attention is focused on the more abstract areas of organizational life, on structure or strategy, which leads in my view to reification,

turning organizations into things, which can be manipulated by managers to resolve the paradox. Instead, I would like to focus on how paradoxes manifest themselves practically, in everyday activity in organizations, as a way of provoking leaders and managers to think about what they are actually doing. But first I attempt a brief philosophical interlude to reprise Hegel’s idea of dialectic,

the contradiction of opposites, which produces an ascending order of complexity because I think Hegel had the most comprehensive system for treating contradiction and this might be helpful for us. I believe it is worth exploring his work further in order that we might set his ideas alongside the work of other scholars. Thereafter I review how paradox is taken up in the organizational literature. I appreciate that what follows in this chapter is quite theoretical, and it may be

some readers would prefer to skip to the next chapter, which has more practical examples of paradoxes in organizational life.