Frames, Framing and Reframing

Frames, Framing and Reframing

Sources: Locating Frames in the Discursive Universe

Scholars from a range of disciplines use the term ‘frame’ to mean a variety of disjointed and incompatible concepts. This paper examines a range of framing literature, from the writings of authors including Erving Goffman, Tuen van Dijk, Serge Moscovici, George Lakoff, Alan Johnson, William Gamson, David Snow, Robert Benford and Paolo Donati. Then it develops the theoretical case for defining frames as semi-structured elements of discourse which people use to make sense of information they encounter. Additionally, this paper demonstrates the need to include social system frames, which provide patterns for understanding social relations, among the presently acknowledged frame types. Frames develop in parallel with language, vary across cultures, and shape, but are distinct from other extra-linguistic discourse forms, including myths and ideologies.

Sources: Frames and Their Consequences

The concept of framing has been used to capture these diverse processes by scholars of the media (Gitlin 1980; Carragee and Woefs 2004), international relations (Bernstein 2002; Berejekian 1997), decisionmaking (Kahneman and Tversky 1986), policymaking (Schon and Rein 1994), and social movements.

Key Terms

  • Mental Models
  • World Views
  • Perspectives
  • Narratives
  • Retrospective Narrative
  • Multi Valent Logic
  • AnteNarrative
  • Law of Requisite Variety
  • Problem Structuring Methods
  • Drama
  • Scenarios
  • Dialectics
  • Meta Theater
  • Lenses
  • System in Focus
  • Focal Point
  • Boundaries
  • Inclusion and Exclusion
  • Frames
  • Framing
  • Reframing
  • Frames Rejected
  • Frames Accepted
  • Multi Perspectivism
  • Multiple Frames
  • Arguments
  • Biases and Prejudices
  • Counterfactuals (for past events)
  • What Ifs
  • Ideology
  • Mindset
  • Script
  • Preferences
  • Selection
  • Self Interest
  • Agenda
  • Why, What and How of a Narrative
  • Frame the Domain
  • Point of View
  • Field of Vision
  • Histories and Plots
  • Frame the issue

David Boje’s Dramatic Septet

David Boje expanded Kenneth Burke’s dramatic pentad to include Rhythms and Frames.

What are Frames?

Source: Critical Dramaturgical Analysis of Enron Antenarratives and Metatheatre

Source: Critical Dramaturgical Analysis of Enron Antenarratives and Metatheatre

Frames, Framing and Reframing

Sanda Kaufman
Michael Elliott
Deborah Shmueli

Original Publication September 2003

What Frames Are

Frames are cognitive shortcuts that people use to help make sense of complex information. Frames help us to interpret the world around us and represent that world to others. They help us organize complex phenomena into coherent, understandable categories. When we label a phenomenon, we give meaning to some aspects of what is observed, while discounting other aspects because they appear irrelevant or counter-intuitive. Thus, frames provide meaning through selective simplification, by filtering people’s perceptions and providing them with a field of vision for a problem.

Frames can significantly affect the intractability of a conflict by creating mutually incompatible interpretations of events. Because frames are built upon underlying structures of beliefs, values, and experiences, disputants often construct frames that differ in significant ways. A simple example is attitudes towards abortion in the US.  “Pro-life” advocates believe abortion is murder of an innocent, unborn child which has as much right to live as anyone else–thus they see the fetus as a person, and abortion as a willful act that murders a person. “Pro-choice” advocates, however, do not see the fetus as a “person” with human rights–not until it becomes “viable” outside the womb, at any rate.  Before then, they focus on the rights of the mother, asserting that she should have ultimate control and “choice” about her medical decisions and what happens to her body.

Frames often exist prior to conscious processing of information for decision-making[1] and affect subsequent individual decisions.[2] Thus, disputants are separated not only by differences in interests, beliefs, and values, but also in how they perceive and understand the world, both at a conscious and pre-conscious level.[3]  

Framing involves both the construction of interpretive frames and their representation to others. Disputants may use framing not only as an aid to interpreting events, but also to promote strategic advantage.[4] Framing can be useful for rationalizing self-interest, convincing a broader audience, building coalitions, or lending preferentiality to specific outcomes. As such, many factors affect how people frame a conflict, which, in turn, influences the direction the conflict takes.[5]

This essay explores the nature of frames and the framing process. It seeks to

  • clarify the basic concepts,
  • present an overview of what is known about frames and framing and their impact on conflict dynamics,
  • explore the forms of framing that are most significant to intractable conflicts,
  • examine the potential for reframing and frame changes as part of a process of reconciliation or conflict resolution, and
  • direct the reader to other web- and print-based resources that can provide more detail.

Differing conceptual frames held by the parties involved in a dispute form the basis on which they act. Each party to a conflict has its own perception and understanding of their agenda, the relevance of various issues, their priorities, and the opportunities and risks involved with different choices. This assemblage of factors can be considered as a set of lenses, or filters, through which the various parties view the conflict, and is called the frame or conceptual frame.

In the English language, the word “frame” can be used both as a verb (to frame) or as a noun (a frame). As a noun, frame denotes the boundary within which the whole picture is displayed (similar to a frame placed around a picture or painting), and is used as a tool for interpreting and understanding the perceptions and underlying objectives of the various actors in the conflict. As a verb, framing refers to the creation of frames, either from a simple reading of the situation or through a deliberative, analytic, or strategic process.

The concept of frames has been developed as a tool for analysis in various fields, including psychology and sociology,[6] business management,[7] artificial intelligence,[8] decision-making,[9] negotiation,[10] and environmental conflict management.[11] Relevant to understanding intractable conflict are definitions given by such scholars as Minsky,[12] Tannen,[13] and Gray,[14] for whom frames are “cognitive structures held in memory and used to guide interpretation of new experience.” Furthermore, “parties rely on these mental structures to interpret or make sense of ongoing events.”[15] Frames are also defined as “collections of perceptions and thoughts that people use to define a situation, organize information, and determine what is important and what is not.”[16] We create frames to name a situation in which we find ourselves, to identify and interpret specific aspects that seem key to us in understanding the situation, and to communicate that interpretation to others.[17]

Why are Frames Important?

An essential element in conflict resolution is an understanding of how frames affect conflict development. In the context of a conflict, we create frames to help us understand why the conflict exists, what actions are important to the conflict, why the parties act as they do, and how we should act in response.[18] During the evolution of a conflict, frames act as sieves through which information is gathered and analyzed, positions are determined (including priorities, means, and solutions), and action plans developed. Depending on the context, frames may be used to conceptualize and interpret, or to manipulate and convince.

Putnam and Holmer[19] hold that framing and reframing are vital to the negotiationprocess and are tied to information processing, message patterns, linguistic cues, and socially constructed meanings. Knowing what types of frames are in use and how they are constructed allows one to draw conclusions about how they affect the development of a conflict, and can be used to influence it. Thus, analyzing the frames people use in a given conflict provides fresh insight and better understanding of the conflict dynamics and development. With such insight, and with the help of reframing, stakeholders may find new ways to reach agreements.

The Sources and Forms of Frames

Many factors influence frames and their formation. Intractable disputes are usually associated with a complex and reinforcing set of frames about oneself, the “others,” risks, what information should apply to the situation, and how decisions should be made. The frames of most importance to intractability usually include identity, characterization, power, conflict management/process, risk/information, and loss versus gain. Their forms and most common sources are as follows:

  • Identity frames: Disputants view themselves as having particular identities in the context of specific conflict situations.[20] These identities spring from the individuals’ self-conception and group affiliations. One might frame oneself as a Hutu or a Tutsi, a Muslim or a Christian, a man or a woman, or a Republican or Democrat.  The more central the challenge to one’s sense of self, the more oppositional one is likely to act. Typical responses to threats to identity include ignoring information and perspectives that threaten the core identity, reinforcing affiliations with like-minded individuals and groups, and negatively characterizing outsiders.
  • Characterization frames: Disputants view others in the conflict as having particular characteristics. Closely related to stereotyping, characterization frames may be either positive or negative. Parties to intractable conflicts often construct characterization frames for others that significantly differ from how the other parties view themselves. Such characterizations often undermine the others’ legitimacy, cast doubt on their motivations, or exploit their sensitivity. For example, many Americans characterize Al Queda as “terrorists,” yet they most certainly do not see themselves that way.  Rather, they see themselves as freedom-fighters, or jihadi warriors fighting for the protection of Islam.  Characterization frames are also often linked to identity frames, serving to strengthen one’s own identity while justifying your actions toward the other (e.g., for me to be a liberator, my opponent must be an oppressor).
  • Power frames: Because intractable conflicts are often imbedded in struggles to alter existing institutions or decision-making procedures, disputants’ conceptions of power and social control play a significant role in conflict dynamics. Power frames help the disputant determine not only which forms of power are legitimate (e.g., governmental, legal, civil disobedience) but also the forms of power that are likely to advance one’s own position (e.g., authority, resources, expertise, coalition-building, threat, voice). For instance, some people may see money as the best way to “buy influence,” while other people might rely more on technical expertise or personal charisma to sway people’s views..
  • Conflict management or process frames: Conflict over how best to manage or resolve differences is central to many intractable disputes. Depending on disputants’ identity, characterization of other disputants, perceived power, and perception of the available options, conflict frames may impel parties to seek very different remedies in response to common problems. These remedies may range from actions as disparate as violence, civil disobedience, litigation, and negotiation. Because of the wide complexity of possible actions and the uncertainty of their consequences, groups with shared interests and values may draw significantly different conclusions as to the best course of action within a particular dispute..One side, for instance, may be willing to sit down with a mediator and negotiate, while the other, thinking that it has the upper hand, may refuse negotiation, preferring litigation or violent action.
  • Risk and information frames: Intractable disputes often involve expectations about future events, in which the events are risky and the likelihood of the events occurring is uncertain.[21] In such conditions, disputants often construct risk and information frames that yield highly variable assessments about the level and extent of a particular risk. Additionally, these frames indicate to the disputant which sources of information are reliable and which are not. Risk and information frames depend not just on the disputant’s interests, but also on the disputant’s training, expertise, level of exposure to the risk, familiarity with the risk, potential for catastrophic impacts associated with the risk, and degree to which the risk is dreaded. People who are used to working and traveling in war-torn areas, for example, have a far different assessment of the risks of such activities than people who don’t do that (who thus are more likely to see the risk of doing so to be unacceptably high). Likewise, engineers who understand the technical aspects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are likely to access the risks of that process differently than “ordinary” people who live near the wells who have read popular media stories about the dangers of fracking–but also differently from the people working on the wells who simply want a job, and are much less worried about the impacts of their work than on the money it puts in their pockets.
  • Loss versus gain framesIn intractable disputes, it is common for most parties to the conflict to focus on threats of potential loss rather than on opportunities for gains. People tend to react differently to a proposed action when its expected consequences are framed in terms of losses as opposed to gains, where preventing a perceived loss is often more salient and more highly valued than capturing a commensurate gain.[22] Going back to the fracking example mentioned above, psychology tells us that most people are more likely to focus on the dangers of fracking (the potential loss of safe drinking water, clean habitat, and quiet) to be more significant than the gains that can be obtained from fracking–reduced reliance on foreign oil, and improved economy, and more jobs.

Many other types of frames can be constructed, but these six categories stand out as particularly applicable to intractable disputes.


Within processes of reconciliationnegotiation, or joint problem solving, the explicit management of frames, and the framing process may lead to important shifts in both the frames themselves and in their impact on the conflict dynamics. This purposive management of frames is called reframing. Use of frame analysis and reframing processes have the following goals:

  • to clarify or “refresh” the perception of the issues in dispute (in order to promote more productive information exchange and listening to ideas not previously considered, and to expand the framework of discussion and explore means of action or solutions not yet attempted);
  • to sharpen the parties’ understanding of their interests and how the modes of action they have chosen serve those interests (in order to examine potential processes for managing conflict more productively and to reconsider patterns of relationships among stakeholders);
  • to identify those subjects which the involved parties view differently, even when the basis for the divergent frames are more fully understood (in order to identify opportunities for trade-offs based on clearly understood differences); and
  • to identify differences which cannot be bridged (in order to more fully appreciate conflict dynamics and to evaluate the potential for conflict reduction processes that do not violate these intractable differences, to determine the degree of importance attributed to these intractable differences in frames, and to seek ways to address them).

Thus, reframing, stemming from stakeholders’ understanding of their own as well as others’ expressed frames, may pave ways for resolving, or at least better managing, a dispute.

Framing diagram

Figure 1: Frames and their role in conflict development

Figure 1 illustrates the roles frames and framing play in the dynamics of conflict development. It demonstrates how a frame change (or reframing) may cause a shift in conflict development, towards conflict management and/or resolution. Types of frame categories are numerous and coined differently by researchers in various fields. The categories cited in this diagram are: substance (reframing that affects how one views the world today or potential future states of the world), process (reframing that affects how one interacts with others in the dispute), values (reframing that allows parties to clarify the relationship between values and interests for both themselves and for other parties), and phrasing (the language used by disputants to communicate with one other).

Frame Analysis and Reframing as Conflict Management Tools

Frame analysis can be used by both third party interveners and by individual stakeholders and conveners to better understand conflict dynamics. Frame analysis has been used both retrospectively (to understand past conflicts) and prospectively (as a tool for better managing an existing conflict). Retrospectively, it seeks to better understand conflict dynamics in order to glean lessons for the future. Prospectively, it advances consensus building in both the conflict assessments and intervention stages.

Analytic techniques for frame analysis include interviewing the various stakeholders to ascertain their perceptions and interpretations, feeding back to the parties the resulting analysis, and then exploring with the parties the meaning and impact of these frames on the conflict dynamics. Particularly within the framework of conflict assessments, [23] frame analysis and the resulting understanding of frames can help the stakeholders to better grasp the conflict, including the factors and contexts that can lead to changes within a frame or changes to the frames themselves. In this sense, framing becomes a formative analytic technique.

In intractable conflicts, frames are often quite stable over time, even when specific individuals move in and out of the conflict. This stability comes both because various frames held by an individual tend to be self reinforcing, and because frames are often shared within a community and therefore are socially reinforced through story-telling and shared perspectives. Yet research into intractable conflicts suggests that in at least some conflicts, frames can be altered over time through intentional interventions, and that the shift in frames helps to render disputes more tractable.[24]

At the same time, research shows that reframing is often not easy for parties. It requires taking on new perspectives, and often requires some degree of risk-taking on the part of the parties. As such, reframing works best when changes in the context of the dispute can be made, such that incentives to consider new perspectives increase, or in the context of careful and constructive dialogue, with a strong focus on improving communication and building trust.

A number of strategies and techniques exist in the use of dialogue to reframe intractable conflicts. These include:[25]

  • Reducing tension and promoting the de-escalation of hostility: by using techniques such as listening projects, study circles, and some forms of mediation which seek to reduce tension by creating forums that promote more effective communication around a set of limited objectives. The forums focus explicitly on improving communication and reducing escalatory cycles that are often associated with mutually-incompatible frames.
  • Perspective taking: techniques such as acknowledging critical identities, imaging of identities and characterizations, narrative forums, and listening circles allow disputants to understand the conflict and its dynamics from the perspective of other disputants. These approaches are particularly geared toward better understanding of identity and characterization frames, in order to see oneself more objectively and the other party in a more positive light. They seek to enable disputants to see the potential validity and credibility of other perspectives, and to examine the interplay between one’s own frames and those of other disputants.
  • Establishing a common ground as a basis for agreement: by using techniques such as visioning exercises and common-ground search processes which enable reframing around a smaller set of issues. Common ground processes are used in highly divisive issues (such as abortion and ethnic disputes) and seek to explore areas of agreement and possible joint action between parties who normally focus on their differences, in order to open up communication between the parties. Search processes seek to identify desired futures in order to shift the focus from a short-term perspective to a long-term one.
  • Enhancing the desirability of options and alternatives: Several approaches exist that may enhance the desirability of alternative options when presented to parties with divergent frames. For a disputant to examine options from the perspective of other parties, he or she must understand the other parties’ frames, and be able to view options from other perspectives. Third-party interveners are often helpful in this regard. In addition, seeking to reframe perceptions of losses as gains can enhance the openness and creativity of parties to a dispute.

Frames play a significant role in perpetuating intractable conflict. As lenses through which disputants interpret conflicts, frames limit the clarity of communication and the quality of information, as well as instigate escalatory processes. These frames, imbedded in personal, social, and institutional roles, are often quite stable over time, even through the ebb and flow of many dispute episodes. As such, they contribute to the intractability of the conflict. In addition, frames interact, often in ways that tend to reinforce the stability of other frames. Yet, in at least some intractable conflicts, changes in the context of the dispute or purposive interventions designed to alter frames have led to reframing that, in turn, has increased the tractability of the conflict. Strategies to accomplish this reframing include frame analysis and the construction of forums designed to enhance communication, understanding, and trust.

[1] Gray, B. and A. Donnellon, 1989. “An Interactive Theory of Reframing in Negotiation,” unpublished manuscript. Pennsylvania State University, College of Business Administration.

[2] Sheppard, B.H., K. Blumenfeld-Jones and J.W. Minton, 1987. “To control or not to control: Two models of conflict intervention,” unpublished manuscript sited in Pinkley, 1990).

[3] Elliott, M., Gray, B., & Lewicki, R., 2003. Lessons learned about the framing of intractable environmental conflicts. In R. Lewicki, B. Gray, & M. Elliott (Eds.), Making sense of intractable environmental conflicts: Concepts and cases (pp. 409-436), Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

[4] Kaufman, S. and J. Smith, 1999. “Framing and Reframing in Land Use Change Conflicts,” Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, Vol.16, no.2, Summer, pp. 164-180.

[5] Elliott, M., Kaufman, S., Gardner, R., and Burgess, G., 2002. “Teaching conflict Assessment and frame analysis through interactive web-based simulations ” The International Journal of Conflict Management, 13:4, pp. 320-340.

[6] e.g. Taylor , D.E., 2000. “The Rise of the Environmental Justice Paradigm. Injustice Framing and the Social Construction of Environmental Discourses,” American Behavioral Scientist. 43 (4), pp. 508-580; and Gonos, G., 1997. “Situation” versus “frame”: The “interactionist” and the “structualist” analyses of everyday life,” American Sociological Review, 42, pp. 854-867.

[7] Watzlawick, P., J. Weakland, and R. Fisch, 1974. Change, Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution, Norton & Company, Inc.; and Goldratt, E.M., 1990. What is this thing called Theory of Constraints and how should it be implemented?, Corton-on-Hudson, NY: North River Press, Inc.

[8] e.g., Minsky, M., 1975. “A Framework for Representing Knowledge,” in Winston, P.H.( Ed.), The Psychology of Computer Vision, New York, NY: McGraw Hill, pp. 177-211.

[9] e.g., Kahneman, D. and A. Tversky, 1979. “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Under Risk, Econometrica 47, pp. 263-289.

[10] e.g., Neale, M.A. and M.H. Bazerman, 1985. “The Effects of Framing and Negotiator Overconfidence on Bargaining Behaviors and Outcomes,” Academy of Management Journal 28, pp. 34-49; Gray, B., 1989. Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc. Publication; and Pinkley, R.L., 1990. “Dimensions of Conflict Frame: Disputant Interpretations of Conflict,” Journal of Applied Psychology 75, pp. 117-126.

[11] Lewicki, R., Gray, B., & Elliott, M., 2003. Making sense of intractable environmental conflicts: Concepts and cases, Washington, D.C.: Island Press; Kaufman and Smith, 1999, op cit.; and Vaughan, E. and M. Seifert, 1992. “Variability in the Framing of Risk Issues,” Journal of Social Issues 48 (4), pp. 119-135.

[12] Minsky, 1975, op cit. 

[13] Tannen, D., 1979. “What’s in a Frame? Surface Evidence of Underlying Expectations,” In Freedle, R. (ed.), New Dimensions in Discourse Processes, Norwood, NJ: Albex, pp. 137-181.

[14] Gray, B., 1997. “Framing and Reframing of Intractable Environmental Disputes,” in Lewicki, R., R. Bies, and B. Sheppard (Eds.), Research on Negotiation in Organizations, 6, p. 171.

[15] Gray 1997, ibid.

[16] Lewicki, R, Saunders, D, and Minton, J., 1999. Negotiation. Burr Ridge, IL: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

[17] Buechler, S., 2000. Social movements in advanced Capitalism. New York: Oxford University Press.

[18] Gray, B., 2003. Framing of environmental disputes. In R. Lewicki, B. Gray, & M. Elliott (Eds.), Making sense of intractable environmental conflicts: Concepts and cases (pp. 11-34), Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

[19] Putnam, L. and M. Holmer, 1992. “Framing, Reframing, and Issue Development”, in Putnam L. and Roloff, M.E. (Eds.), Communication and Negotiation, Newbury Park, CA: Sage, Vol. 20. pp.128-155.

[20] Rothman, J., 1997. Resolving Identity-Based Conflict in Nations, Organizations, and Communities, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

[21] Heimer, C.A., 1988. “Social Structures, Psychology and the Estimation of Risk,” Annual Review of Sociology 14, pp. 491-519.

[22] Kahneman & Tverski, 1979, op cit.; Tversky, A. and D. Kahneman, 1981. “The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice,” Science 211, pp. 453-458; Schweitzer , M.E. and L.A. DeChurch, 2001. “Linking Frames in Negotiations: Gains, Losses and Conflict Frame Adoption.” International Journal of Conflict Management, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 100-113.

[23] Shmueli, D. and M. Ben Gal, 2000. “Reframing of Protracted Environmental Disputes”, interim report to the Israeli Ministry of Environment, March (Hebrew); Shmueli, D. and M. Ben Gal, 2001. “Conflict Assessment to Promote Dialogue between the Stakeholders involved in the Dispute Surrounding the Treatment and Discharge of Industrial Wastes in the Lower Kishon Basin,” draft June, final November (Hebrew); and Shmueli, D. and M. Ben Gal, forthcoming. “The Potential of Framing in Managing and Resolving Environmental Conflict.” In E. Feitelson, G. de Roo and D. Miller (Eds.), Advancing Sustainability at the Sub-National Level, Ashgate Press.

[24] Elliott, M., Gray, B., & Lewicki, R., 2003. Lessons learned about the framing of intractable environmental conflicts. In R. Lewicki, B. Gray, & M. Elliott (Eds.), Making sense of intractable environmental conflicts: Concepts and cases (pp. 409–436), Washington, D.C.: Island Press at 420.

[25] ibid, at 425-434.

What is Framed?

  • Situations
  • Attributes
  • Choices
  • Actions
  • Issues
  • Responsibility
  • News

Source: Seven Models of Framing: Implications for Public Relations

Frame Development, Generation, and Elaboration


  • Discursive Processes
  • Strategic Processes
  • Contested Processes
Strategic Processes


  • Frame Bridging,
  • Frame Amplification,
  • Frame Extension,
  • Frame Transformation.

Contested Processes in Social Movements


There is widespread agreement among movement framing researchers that the development, generation, and elaboration of collective action frames are contested processes. All actors within the collective action arena who engage in this reality construction work are embroiled in the politics of signification. This means that activists are not able to construct and impose on their intended targets any version of reality they would like; rather there are a variety of challenges confronting all those who engage in movement framing activities. Thus far the literature elaborates on three forms these challenges tend to take: counterframing by movement opponents, bystanders, and the media; frame disputes within movements; and the dialectic between frames and events.

Frames and Scenarios

How are Frames related to Scenario Planning?

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Click to access 2006%20polletta%20and%20ho%20frames%20and%20their%20consequences.pdf

“Finding frames in a web of culture: The case of the War on Terror,”

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in P. D’Angelo and J. Kuypers (eds.) Doing News Framing Analysis: Empirical, Theoretical, and Normative Perspectives (New York: Routledge, 2009).

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First Published September 1, 1997 

Sociological Research Online

Vol 2, Issue 3, 1997

Seven Models of Framing: Implications for Public Relations

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Paradoxes, Contradictions, and Dialectics in Organizations

Source: The role of paradox theory in decision making and management research

In our increasingly complex, global and fast-paced world, competing demands on individuals and teams continually surface in the context of organizational life. Individuals face challenges between work and family, learning and performing, collaborating and competing. Teams grapple with tensions between individual and collective accomplishments, specializing and coordination, and meeting creativity and efficiency goals. Leaders need to maintain both distance and closeness, treat subordinates uniformly while allowing individualism, and ensure decision control while allowing autonomy. Moreover, in an increasingly global environment, individuals and leaders must increasingly act globally, while dealing with local demands or nuances. Perhaps as an even greater challenge, they may value nationalistic concerns, while simultaneously embracing multiculturalism and a global mindset.

Key Words

  • Paradox
  • Conflicts
  • Contradictions
  • Dialectics
  • Process
  • Disequilibria
  • Disruption
  • Opposition
  • Synthesis
  • Competing Poles
  • Dilemmas
  • Trade-offs
  • Dualities
  • Polarities
  • Virtuous Cycles
  • Vicious Cycles
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Oxymora
  • This and That
  • This or That
  • Either/ Or
  • Both/And
  • Inclusion and Exclusion
  • Networks and Boundaries
  • Outside and Inside
  • Before and After
  • Japanese Zen Koans
  • Chinese Yin Yang
  • Aristotle Logic
  • Hegel Dialectics
  • Tensions
  • Ambidexerity
  • Paradox Theory
  • Ambivalence
  • Double Bind
  • Contingency Theory
  • African Ubuntu
  • Trialectics
  • Verbs: working with (through), addressing, resolving, combining, embracing, mediating, simultaneously achieving, managing contradictions, achieving balance, dealing with, coexisting, aligning, reconciling, solving the struggle between, enabling multiple interests, negotiating tensions, facing, synthesizing opposites, mastering the paradox, overcoming;
  • Nouns: coping strategies, emerging strategies, resolutions, solutions, tactics, compromises (trade-offs), framework, mediator
  • Coping strategies : the presence or absence of coping strategies in the paper and the type of coping strategies (splitting, specializing, suppressing, opposing and synthesizing).
  • Key concept (paradox, dilemma, duality, polarity, dialectic or ambidexterity)

Organizational Paradox


Organizational paradox offers a theory of the nature and management of competing demands. Historically, the dominant paradigm in organizational theory depicted competing demands as trade-offs or dilemmas that could be resolved by choosing one option. In the late 1960s, scholars such as Joan Woodward, Paul Lawrence, and Jay Lorsch introduced contingency theory, suggesting that individuals resolve these tensions by taking the context and environment into account. Paradox theory offers an alternative approach, suggesting that these tensions cannot be resolved. By depicting competing demands as tensions that are not only contradictory, but also interdependent and persistent, paradox theory argues that actors need to accept, engage, and navigate tensions rather than resolve them. Foundational work on paradox in organizations emerged starting in the late 1970s and 1980s. This work drew from rich insights across a variety of disciplines, including Eastern philosophy (Taoism, Confucianism), Western philosophies (Hegel, Heraclitus), psychodynamics (Jung, Adler, Frankel), psychology (Schneider, Watzlawick), political science (Marx, Engel), communications and sociology (Taylor, Bateson), and negotiations and conflict resolution (Follett). More recent work has advanced foundational building blocks toward a theory of paradox. Underlying the theory of paradox is ontologies of dualism—two opposing elements that together form an integrated unity—and dynamism— ongoing change. Scholars have defined paradox as tensions that are contradictory, interdependent, and persistent, noting their dynamic, everchanging, cyclical nature. Some scholars describe the origins of paradox as inherent within systems, while others highlight their social construction through cognition, dialogue, and rationality. Still others explore the relationship between the inherent and socially constructed nature of tensions, depicting tensions as latent within a system, becoming salient through social construction and external conditions. Moreover, some scholars focus more on understanding the poles of paradox, while others depict the ongoing dynamic interaction and evolution. As paradox theory continues to grow and expand, scholars have also added complexity to our understanding, emphasizing paradoxes as nested across levels and as knotted and interwoven across various tensions, while also taking into account the power dynamics, uncertainty, plurality, and scarcity of systems within which paradoxes emerge. This article identifies scholarship that depicts these varied approaches and ideas, providing the foundations of paradox theory for scholars new to this field and in-depth analysis for those seeking to expand their understanding. Section 1 offers foundational work. Section 2 introduces early scholarship that launched the field. Section 3 includes work describing foundational building blocks toward a theory of paradox. Section 4 highlights research that recognizes the nested nature of paradox and describes how this theory has been applied across different levels. Section 5 includes papers that address the meta-theoretical and multi-paradigmatic aspect of paradox theory, noting how these ideas have been applied across phenomena and across theoretical lenses. Section 6 describes papers that draw on the varied methodological traditions associated with paradox. Finally, section 7 identifies several handbooks and special issues that offer an introduction to or integration of paradox theory.

The Pillars of the Paradox: Foundational Papers

The early foundational work in organizational paradox dates back to the late 1970s and 1980s, and it established paradox as a core lens through which to understand organizational phenomena. These different insights emerged out of multiple traditions. One of the earliest pieces, Benson 1977 draws on the work of Hegel, Marx, and Engels to introduce the idea of dialectics in organizations. Discussion continues to this day about the distinctions and synergies between dialectical and paradoxical perspectives (see, e.g., Hargrave and van de Ven 2017, cited under Different Traditions and Influences). Putnam 1986, a foundational work, draws its roots from communication and sociology from writers such as Taylor, Bateson, and Watzlewick, while the core insight of Smith and Berg 1987 grew out of work on psychodynamics from scholars such as Jung, Adler, Frankel, and Freud. In 2000, Marianne Lewis wrote her AMR paper, “Exploring Paradox: Toward a More Comprehensive Guide” (Lewis 2000), which brings together these traditions and has inspired the next generation of those examining paradox. In doing so, she won AMR’s best paper of the year award.

  • Benson, J. Kenneth. “Organizations: A Dialectical View.” Administrative Science Quarterly 22.1 (1977): 1–21. Benson draws heavily on insights from Marx and Engels, providing a dialectical perspective of organizations in which contradictions morph and change over time into new integrations. This piece constitutes an early introduction to thinking about organizational systems as embodiments of oppositional tensions. Benson suggests that understanding these tensions depends on four basic principles: social construction, totality, contradiction, and praxis.
  • Cameron, Kim S. “Effectiveness as Paradox: Consensus and Conflict in Conceptions of Organizational Effectiveness.” Management Science 32.5 (1986): 539–553. Cameron reviews the areas of consensus and conflicts in the literature on effectiveness and in doing so describes the inherently paradoxical nature of effectiveness in organizations. He argues that to be effective an organization must own attributes that are simultaneously contradictory, even mutually exclusive.
  • Clegg, Stewart R., ed. Management and Organization Paradoxes. Advances in Organization Studies 9. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2002. Scholars debate the source of paradox as socially constructed and symbolic or inherent and material. Clegg organizes this edited volume to address this paradox of paradoxes. The first section addresses “representing paradoxes,” highlighting the role of symbols and discourse to create paradoxes. The second section focuses on “materializing paradoxes,” describing paradox within various organizational phenomena.
  • Clegg, Stewart R., João Vieira da Cunha, and Miguel Pina e Cunha. “Management Paradoxes: A Relational View.” Human Relations 55.5 (2002): 483–503. The authors offer a relational view of paradox. They discern four regularities from the literature: first, the simultaneous presence of opposites is the everyday experience in management; second, a relationship is often found between the opposing poles (synthesis); third, this synthesis emerges when the relationship’s structural side is kept at a minimal level, and the relationship is mutually reinforcing; finally, this relationship is local, it cannot be designed but emerges from situated practice.
  • Lewis, Marianne. W. “Exploring Paradox: Toward a More Comprehensive Guide.” Academy of Management Review 25.4 (2000): 760–776. This article advances foundational ideas of organizational paradox. Lewis defines paradox as “contradictory yet interrelated elements—elements that seem logical in isolation but absurd and irrational when appearing simultaneously” (p. 760). She develops a framework that starts with tensions (self-referential loops, mixed messages, and system contradictions), identifies defense mechanisms that lead to reinforcing cycles, and explores management strategies to tap into the power of paradox. She further categorizes paradoxes of learning, organizing, and belonging.
  • Poole, Marshall S., and Andrew H. van de Ven. “Using Paradox to Build Management and Organization Theories.” Academy of Management Review 14.4 (1989): 562–578. The authors explore how paradox thinking can be used to improve our approaches to theorizing. They describe paradoxes as “social paradoxes” that exist in the real world, subject to temporal and spatial constraints, and they propose four strategies for addressing social paradoxes: opposition, accepting the contradiction and using it; spatial separation, defining clear levels of analysis; temporal separation, taking time into account; and synthesis, adopting new term to overcome paradoxes. They illustrate each of these four approaches by exploring the paradoxical tension between structure and agency.
  • Putnam, Linda L. “Contradictions and Paradoxes in Organizations.” In Organization-Communication: Emerging Perspectives. Edited by Lee Thayer, 151–167. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1986. Putnam draws on theories of discourse, communication, and group relations to introduce a categorization of three types of paradoxes: contradictory messages in which words conflict with actions or in roles; paradoxes or double binds, which highlights self-referential interactions due to the dynamics between actors; and system contradictions in which the tensions are embedded within the organizational structures.
  • Quinn, Robert E., and Kim S. Cameron, eds. Paradox and Transformation: Toward a Theory of Change in Organization and Management. Cambridge MA: Ballinger, 1988. This edited volume includes essays from luminaries in organizational theory offering insights about how paradox can inform and is informed by strategic thinking, organizational change, communication, and group dynamics. These now classic essays provide foundational insights for applying paradox theory to organizational phenomena.
  • Smith, Kenwyn K., and David N. Berg. Paradoxes of Group Life: Understanding Conflict, Paralysis, and Movement in Group Dynamics. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1987. Smith and Berg define paradox as “a statement or set of statements that are self-referential and contradictory and trigger a vicious cycle” (p. 12). They trace the roots of paradoxical thought drawing heavily on psychoanalysis, and they highlight twelve paradoxes within groups and merge them in three different categories: paradoxes of belonging, paradoxes of engaging, and paradoxes of speaking. This text offers an early approach to exploring paradox within organizational phenomena.

SWG 09: Organizational Paradox: Engaging Plurality, Tensions and Contradictions


Costas Andriopoulos, City, University London, United Kingdom
Josh Keller, UNSW Sydney, Australia
Marianne W. Lewis, University of Cincinnati, USA
Ella Miron-Spektor, INSEAD, Europe Campus, France
Camille Pradies, EDHEC Business School, France
Jonathan Schad, King’s College London, United Kingdom
Wendy K. Smith, University of Delaware, USA

Organizational life faces unprecedented complexity. Multiple and contradictory goals, competing stakeholder demands, and fast-paced change increasingly give rise to persistent and interwoven tensions, such as today and tomorrow, social missions and business demands, centralization and decentralization, stability and change. Whereas traditional management research emphasizes contingency approaches to make explicit choices between alternatives of a tension, a paradox approach underlines the value of embracing competing demands simultaneously (Lewis, 2000). A paradox depicts a tension’s elements as contradictory and inconsistent, yet also interdependent, synergistic, and mutually constituted (Farjoun, 2010; Smith & Lewis, 2011). Engaging competing demands simultaneously enables long term organizational sustainability.

The aim of SWG 09 is to advance our understanding of plurality, tensions, and contradictions to better engage them for managerial practice (see Putnam et al., 2016; Schad et al., 2016).

Throughout continuous sub-themes at EGOS Colloquia, we have been able to further our understanding of tensions and contradictions, and thereby define clear boundaries and definitions. Building on a thriving community of scholars, we now seek to apply new theoretical terrains and discuss methodological possibilities to uncover the full potential of paradox research.
This SWG aims to specifically explore and advance research on plurality, tensions, and contradictions as follow:

  • Understanding the sources of tensions: Tensions are depicted as inherent to organizing as well as socially constructed (Smith & Lewis, 2011). Recent research explains that tensions can be rooted in complex systems, which is why they can be latent and become salient (Schad & Bansal, 2018).
  • Multiple, interwoven tensions: Given the pervasiveness of multiple tensions, scholars may study co-occurrence of tensions (Jarzabkowski et al., 2013), which span levels of an organizations (Andriopoulos & Lewis, 2009), and can be interrelationships among tensions (Sheep et al., 2017).
  • Microfoundations: What are the microfoundations of paradoxes (Miron-Spektor et al., 2018)? What is the role of emotions – anxiety, ambivalence, vulnerability – in sustaining or leveraging paradoxical tensions (Vince & Broussine, 1996)? What are the consequences for management and organization (Hahn et al., 2014)?
  • Paradoxes of grand and complex challenges:Given the changing landscape of organizations and the environment they are embedded in (social values, political orientations, technological, etc.) how does paradox as a lens inform in dealing with grand and complex challenges?
  • New methods in paradox research: What are new methods or combinations of methods that can help us examine paradoxes empirically (Andriopoulos & Gotsi, 2017; Jarzabkowski et al., 2019)? Are there new ways of triangulation informed by paradox theory, combining qualitative, quantitative and experimental approaches? Can paradox theory benefit from the analysis of big data or simulations? How can paradox be used to explore tensions between theory and methods?
  • The challenge of managing paradox: Addressing paradoxes is challenging (Denis et al., 2001), since tensions surface uncertainty and ambiguity (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002). What are the risks of engaging paradoxes (Pina e Cunha & Putnam, 2019)?
  • Abdallah, C., Denis, J.L., & Langley, A. (2011): “Having your cake and eating it too Discourses of transcendence and their role in organizational change dynamics.” Journal of Organizational Change Management, 24 (3), 333–348.
  • Andriopoulos, C., & Gotsi, M. (2017): “Methods of Paradox.” In: W. Smith, M. Lewis, P. Jarzabkowski & A. Langley (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Paradox. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 513–528.
  • Andriopoulos, C., & Lewis, M.W. (2009): “Exploitation-Exploration Tensions and Organizational Ambidexterity: Managing Paradoxes of Innovation.” Organization Science, 20 (4), 696–717.
  • Denis, J.-L., Lamothe, L., & Langley, A. (2001): “The Dynamics of Collective Leadership and Strategic Change in Pluralistic Organizations.” Academy of Management Journal, 44 (4), 809–837.
  • Farjoun, M. (2010): “Beyond Dualism: Stability and Change as Duality.” Academy of Management Review, 35 (2), 202–225.
  • Hahn, T., Preuss, L., Pinkse, J., & Figge, F. (2014): “Cognitive Frames in Corporate Sustainability: Managerial Sensemaking with Paradoxical and Business Case Frames.” Academy of Management Review, 39 (4), 463–487.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., Bednarek, R., Chalkias, K., & Cacciatori, E. (2019): “Exploring inter-organizational paradoxes: Methodological lessons from a study of a grand challenge.” Strategic Organization, 17 (1), 120–132.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., Lê, J.K., & Van de Ven, A.H. (2013): “Responding to competing strategic demands: How organizing, belonging, and performing paradoxes coevolve.” Strategic Organization, 11 (3), 245–280.
  • Lewis, M.W. (2000): “Exploring Paradox: Toward a More Comprehensive Guide.” Academy of Management Review, 25( 4), 760–776.
  • Miron-Spektor, E., Ingram, A., Keller, J., Smith, W.K., & Lewis, M.W. (2018): “Microfoundations of Organizational Paradox: The Problem Is How We Think about the Problem.” Academy of Management Journal, 61 (1), 26–45.
  • Pina e Cunha, M., & Putnam, L.L. (2019): “Paradox theory and the paradox of success.” Strategic Organization, 17 (1), 95–106.
  • Putnam, L.L., Fairhurst, G.T., & Banghart, S. (2016): “Contradictions, Dialectics, and Paradoxes in Organizations: A Constitutive Approach.” Academy of Management Annals, 10 (1), 65–171.
  • Schad, J., & Bansal, P. (2018): “Seeing the Forest and the Trees: How a Systems Perspective Informs Paradox Research.” Journal of Management Studies, 55 (8), 1491–1506.
  • Schad, J., Lewis, M.W., Raisch, S., & Smith, W.K. (2016): “Paradoxical Research in Management Science: Looking Backward to Move Forward.” Academy of Management Annals, 10 (1), 5–64.
  • Sheep, M.L., Fairhurst, G.T., & Khazanchi, S. (2017): “Knots in the Discourse of Innovation: Investigating Multiple Tensions in a Reacquired Spin-off.” Organization Studies, 38 (3–4), 463–488.
  • 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.
  • Tsoukas, H., & Chia, R. (2002): “On organizational becoming: Rethinking organizational change.” Organization Science, 13 (5), 567–582.
  • Vince, R., & Broussine, M. (1996): “Paradox, Defense and Attachment: Accessing and Working with Emotions and Relations Underlying Organizational Change.” Organization Studies, 17 (1), 1–21.

The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Paradox  

Edited by Wendy K. Smith, Marianne W. Lewis, Paula Jarzabkowski, and Ann Langley


Organizations are rife with paradoxes. Contradictory and interdependent tensions emerge from and within multiple levels, including individual interactions, group dynamics, organizational strategies, and the broader institutional context. Examples abound such as those between stability and change, empowerment and alienation, flexibility and control, diversity and inclusion, exploration and exploitation, social and commercial, competition and collaboration, learning and performing. These examples accentuate the distinctions between concepts, positing their potential opposition; either A or B. Yet the social world is pluralistic, and comprises multiple, interwoven tensions, in which the relationship between A and B persists in a dynamic, ever-changing relationship. In the last thirty years, the depth and breadth of paradox studies in organizational theory has grown exponentially, surfacing new insights and applications while challenging foundational ideas, and raising questions around definitions, overlapping lenses, and varied research and managerial approaches. In this book, renowned organizational scholars draw from diverse lenses, theories, and empirics to depict paradox within organizational studies and provide a range of lenses and tools with which to understand and conduct research into such phenomena. In doing so, we hope these chapters re-energize continued insight on organizational paradox, plurality, tensions, and contractions.

Keywords: paradoxpluralitydichotomydialecticsdualitiestensionscontradictionsprocesspracticevirtuous and vicious cycles

Dualities, Dialectics, and Paradoxes in Organizational Life

Front Cover

Moshe Farjoun, Wendy Smith, Ann Langley, Haridimos Tsoukas

Oxford University Press, Jul 26, 2018 – Business & Economics – 240 pages

Contradictions permeate and propel organizational life – including tensions between reaching globally while focusing locally; competing while also cooperating; performing reliably while experimenting, taking risks, and learning; or granting autonomy while constraining freedom. These tensions give organizational members pause, but also spur them to take action; they may be necessary for preserving the social order, but are also required to transform it. Drawing on the Eighth International Symposium on Process Organization Studies, Dualities, Dialectics, and Paradoxes in Organizational Life examines how contradictions fuel emergent, dynamic systems and stimulate novelty, adaption, and transformations. It uses conceptual and empirical studies to offer insight into how process theorizing advances understanding of organizational contradictions; to shed light on how dialectics, paradoxes, and dualities fuel persistence and transformation; and to explore the convergence and divergence of dialectics, paradox, and dualities. Taken together, it offers key insights to inform persistent, contradictory dynamics in organizations and organizational studies.

Elgar Introduction to Organizational Paradox Theory

Elgar Introductions to Management and Organization Theory series

Publication Date: July 2021 ISBN: 978 1 83910 113 7 Extent: 192 pp

Marco Berti, Senior Lecturer in Management, UTS Business, University of Technology Sydney, Australia, Ace Simpson, Reader in Human Resource Management and Organizational Behaviour, Brunel Business School, Brunel University London, UK, Miguel Pina e Cunha, Fundação Amélia de Mello Professor, Nova School of Business and Economics, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal and Stewart R. Clegg, Professor, University of Stavanger Business School, Norway and Nova School of Business and Economics, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal 

This insightful Elgar Introduction comprises the first effort to provide a succinct overview of the field of organizational paradox theory, exploring contradictions and tensions in organizational settings. By conceptually mapping the field, it offers guidance through the literature on paradox, making space for new interpretations and applications of the concept. 

Opening with a critical analysis of research to date, the authors explore ideas related to dialectics and ambidexterity in organizations, as well as pragmatic approaches to organizational paradox. Chapters propose new ways to analyse responses to paradox, bringing together influential contributions that consider the nestedness of paradox, the relation between power and paradox, and paradoxes of positive organizational scholarships.

Providing novel approaches to the discipline, this cutting-edge book is crucial for graduate students and management scholars interested in employing organizational paradox theory as a conceptual framework for their research.

‘In an era in which paradox theory, research, and practice has grown exponentially, this book is a landmark contribution to the work on organizational tensions. As a highly accessible guide to the paradox terrain, it offers a number of unique features: 1) a broad historical picture of the evolution of paradox theory, 2) a succinct and insightful discussion of both the positive and negative sides of paradox, 3) a vivid expose on paradox complexity, 4) an exploration of the role of power in exercising and responding to paradox, and 5) recommendations for extending the vitality of this theory as well as avoiding practices that might reify it. The clarity of its presentation, sophistication of its ideas, and use of rich vignettes make it a “must read” for practitioners as well as academics interested in how contradictions and tensions pervade organizational experiences.’ 
– Linda L. Putnam, University of California, Santa Barbara, US

‘Berti, Simpson, Cunha, and Clegg’s thoughtful map of the paradox terrain offers deep insight to any traveler – whether they are just stepping into this world for the first time looking to understand the landscape or whether they are a seasoned explorer who can see old experiences with a new lens. Their focus on how features of power inform our experiences of paradox offers important ideas that allows us to grapple with tensions in new ways. I found myself delighted with the ideas, eager to read more, and energized to engage with paradox studies in new ways.’
– Wendy Smith, University of Delaware, US

‘This book is a tour de force, covering the field of paradox theory and all of the key concepts whilst also sketching out a compelling vision of how paradox theorising can both provide novel insights and also be taken to the next level in studying the grand societal challenges of our time. I strongly recommend it for new and established paradox scholars and those who are “paradox-curious”.’
– Paula Jarzabkowski, Cass Business School, City University of London, UK

‘With this book, the exciting new wave of paradox studies comes of age. It encourages and enables readers to go beyond managerial “both-anding” rhetoric and approaches. It unashamedly exhorts paradox scholars to look up and look around, at the absurdity and contradictions embedded in our lives and work in a society of organizations and the role of power and politics in framing paradoxes and our responses to them. Its stronger and bolder approach to paradox theory will speak to those who feel trapped in iron cages of contradictions, excite critical scholars who wish to deepen the treatment of paradox, and broaden student’s understanding and appreciation of the tensions, dilemmas and contradictions that bedevil life inside and outside modern institutions.’
– Richard Badham, Macquarie University, Australia

‘This book is a true guide to organizational paradox theory. It offers a multifarious picture of the landscape of organizational paradox with its gently rolling hills but also its sharp cliffs and deep abysses. It does a brilliant job in offering guidance into paradox research without tracing out a path to follow. Every word of this book reflects the deep and long-lasting engagement, dedication, and passion that the authors have devoted to studying paradox. It is a great service to our burgeoning field and to those who want to join the fascinating endeavor of venturing the winding roads of researching and navigating organizational paradox.’
– Tobias Hahn, ESADE Business School, Ramon Llull University, Spain


  • Global and Local
  • Cooperation and Competition
  • Nationalism and Globalism
  • Nativism vs Multiculturalism
  • Short Term Efficiency and Long term Development
  • Organizational Stability and Flexibility
  • Shareholders and Stakeholders
  • Conforming to and Shaping Collective Forces in the Environment
  • Nurture and Discipline
  • Respect vs Suspect
  • Consistency vs Flexibility
  • Solidarity vs Autonomy

Types of Competing Demands

Source: Analyzing competing demands in organizations: a systematic comparison

Source: Analyzing competing demands in organizations: a systematic comparison

Source: 27 years of research on organizational paradox and coping strategies: A review

Source: Dialectic, Contradiction, or Double Bind? Analyzing and Theorizing Employee Reactions to Organizational Tension

coping strategies

  • opposition
  • spatial separation
  • temporal separation
  • synthesis
  • splitting,
  • specializing,
  • suppressing

Source: 27 years of research on organizational paradox and coping strategies: A review


Source: From Tension to Transformation
How Wise Decision-makers Transcend Paradoxes and Ambiguity

Source: From Tension to Transformation
How Wise Decision-makers Transcend Paradoxes and Ambiguity

Seven Pillars of Cultivating Paradoxical Wisdom

Source: The seven pillars of paradoxical organizational wisdom: On the use of paradox as a vehicle to synthesize knowledge and ignorance

Source: Grasping the dynamics within paradox – comparing exogenous and endogenous approaches to paradox using social systems theory

My Related Posts:

Dialogs and Dialectics

Reflexivity, Recursion, and Self Reference

Second Order Cybernetics of Heinz Von Foerster

Knot Theory and Recursion: Louis H. Kauffman

Process Physics, Process Philosophy

Boundaries and Networks

Multilevel Approach to Research in Organizations

Networks and Hierarchies

Levels of Human Psychological Development in Integral Spiral Dynamics

Key Sources of Research

Metaphor, recursive systems, and paradox in science and developmental theory

W F Overton 1

Child Dev Behav. 1991;23:59-71.

doi: 10.1016/s0065-2407(08)60022-1.

Contradictions, Dialectics, and Paradoxes in Organizations: A Constitutive Approach

  • January 2016
  • The Academy of Management Annals 10(1):65-171


Linda L. Putnam

Gail Fairhurst

Scott Banghart

Integrating Dialectical and Paradox Perspectives on Managing Contradictions in Organizations

Timothy J Hargrave, Andrew H Van de Ven

 May 13, 2016

Contradictions, Dialectics and Paradoxes

  • January 2016
  • Publisher: Sage
  • Editors: Ann Langley, Haridimos Tsoukas

Moshe Farjoun

  • York University

Dualities, Dialectics, and Paradoxes in Organizational Life

edited by Moshe Farjoun, Wendy Smith, Ann Langley, Haridimos Tsoukas

Oxford Univ Press


Adding Complexity to Theories of
Paradox, Tensions and Dualities of Innovation and Change

Introduction to
Organization Studies Special Issue on
Paradox, Tensions and Dualities of Innovation and Change

Wendy Smith Miriam Erez Marianne Lewis Sirkka Jarvenpaa Paul Tracey

Organizational Paradox

Simone CarmineWendy K. Smith


DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199846740-0201

Paradox Research in Management Science: Looking Back to Move Forward.

Schad, J., Lewis, M. W., Raisch, S. & Smith, W. K. (2016).

Academy of Management Annals, 10(1), pp. 5-64.

doi: 10.1080/19416520.2016.1162422

Logics of Identity, Contradiction, and Attraction in Change

Jeffrey D. Ford and Laurie W. Ford

Published Online: 1 Oct 1994

Academy of Management Review VOL. 19, NO. 4

Contradictions, Tensions, Paradoxes, and Dialectics

Deborah Ballard-ReischPaaige K. Turner

First published: 08 March 2017

Contradiction and Harmony

Analyzing competing demands in organizations: a systematic comparison

Medhanie Gaim

1Umeå School of Business, Economics and Statistics, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

Nils Wåhlin , Miguel Pina e Cunha and Stewart Clegg

Journal of Organization Design (2018) 7:6

A Daoist Critique of Dialectics and Why It Matters

Joseph Pratt

Yingnan Zhao

Peking University Law School

70 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2018 Last revised: 22 Dec 2020

Date Written: April 12, 2019

The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Paradox  

Edited by Wendy K. Smith, Marianne W. Lewis, Paula Jarzabkowski, and Ann Langley

The curse of the Hegelian heritage: “Dialectic,” “contradiction,” and “dialectical logic” in Activity Theory

Michael H.G. Hoffmann, Atlanta, USA

Institutional Contradictions, Praxis, and Institutional Change: A Dialectical Perspective

Myeong-Gu Seo and W. E. Douglas Creed

The Academy of Management Review 

Vol. 27, No. 2 (Apr., 2002), pp. 222-247 (26 pages) 

Published By: Academy of Management

What, exactly, is a paradox? 

William G. Lycan

Analysis, Volume 70, Issue 4, October 2010, Pages 615–622,

Published: 28 July 2010

Dialectic, Contradiction, or Double Bind? Analyzing and Theorizing Employee Reactions to Organizational Tension

Sarah J. Tracy

Journal of Applied Communication Research, Vol. 32, No. 2, May 2004, pp. 119–146

Heraclitus and the Art of Paradox

Mary Margaret McCabe

In Platonic Conversations

Mary Margaret McCabe

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198732884

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198732884.001.0001


Stewart Clegg

Chapter prepared for The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Paradox: Approaches to Plurality, Tensions, and Contradictions, edited by M.W. Lewis, W.K. Smith, P. Jarzabkowski & A. Langley.


Nadia Stoyanova Kennedy State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook

Systems Intelligence in Leadership and Everyday Life

edited by Raimo P. Hämäläinen

Dialectical Opposition in Schoenberg’s Music and Thought

Michael Cherlin

Music Theory Spectrum, Volume 22, Issue 2, Fall 2000, Pages 157–176,

Published: 01 October 2000

From Tension to Transformation
How Wise Decision-makers Transcend Paradoxes and Ambiguity

Dr. Peter Verhezen


Dialectical Theory

The role of paradox theory in decision making and management research

David A. Waldman , Linda L. Putnam , Ella Miron-Spektor , Donald Siegel

Received 2 April 2019; Accepted 19 April 2019

Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes,

27 years of research on organizational paradox and coping strategies: A review

Nathalie Guilmot

Louvain School of Management

Ina Ehnert
Louvain School of Management

Chapter 1 Why are uncertainty, ambiguity and paradox important for managers?

Managing in Uncertainty: Complexity and the paradoxes of everyday organizational life. Routledge, 2015.

The Arrow of Time and the Cycle of Time: Concepts of Change, Cognition, and Embodiment

  • July 1994
  • Psychological Inquiry 5(3):215-237


Willis F. Overton

Paradox as a Metatheoretical Perspective: Sharpening the Focus and Widening the Scope


Marianne Lewis

Wendy K. Smith

Paradox theory and the paradox of success

Miguel Pina e Cunha

Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal

Linda L Putnam

University of California, USA

Strategic Organization 2019, Vol. 17(1) 95–106

The paradox of co‐operation and competition in strategic alliances: towards a multi‐paradigm approach

Colin  Clarke‐Hill, Huaning  Li, Barry  Davies

Management Research News

ISSN: 0140-9174

Article publication date: 1 February 2003

Twelfth International Symposium on Process Organization Studies

Organizing beyond organizations for the common good:

Addressing societal issues through process studies



CLIVE SMALLMAN University of Western Sydney

University of Cyprus and University of Warwick

ANDREW H. VAN DE VEN University of Minnesota

Academy of Management fournal 2013, Vol. 56, No. 1, 1-13.

The Practice Approach: For a Praxeology of Organisational and Management Studies

Davide Nicolini and Pedro Monteiro

Click to access nicolini_and_monteiro_-_the_practice_approach.pdf

The SAGE Handbook of Process Organization Studies

Ann Langley and Haridimos Tsoukas


Click to access 866021353.pdf

Dealing with Paradoxes of Law: Derrida, Luhmann, Wiethölter

Translated by Iain L. Fraser


Oren Perez and Gunther Teubner (eds.), On Paradoxes and Inconsistencies in Law, Hart, Oxford 2006, 41-64

On The Marxist Dialectic

Sean Sayers

The Influence of Biculturalism on the Development of a Dialectical Thinking

LUISS Guido Carli / Premio tesi d’eccellenza

Working paper n. 7/2016-2017

Publication date: February 2019

Dialectical Thinking and Humanistic Psychology

John Rowan

Click to access 3-2%2020%20Rowan%20-%20Humanistic%20Psychology.pdf

PARADOXES. Their Roots, Range and Resolution.

Nicholas RESCHER

Chicago and La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 2001

Review by Mirela Saim

Click to access ReviewRescher.pdf

Culture, Dialectics, and Reasoning About Contradiction

Kaiping Peng

Richard E. Nisbett

September 1999 • American Psychologist

Vol. 54, No. 9, 741-754

Elgar Introduction to Organizational Paradox Theory

Marco Berti, Senior Lecturer in Management, UTS Business, University of Technology Sydney, Australia,

Ace Simpson, Reader in Human Resource Management and Organizational Behaviour, Brunel Business School, Brunel University London, UK,

Miguel Pina e Cunha, Fundação Amélia de Mello Professor, Nova School of Business and Economics, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal

Stewart R. Clegg, Professor, University of Stavanger Business School, Norway and Nova School of Business and Economics, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal 

Elgar Introductions to Management and Organization Theory series

Publication Date: July 2021 ISBN: 978 1 83910 113 7 Extent: 192 pp

Transcending Paradox: The Chinese “Middle Way” Perspective


Darden Graduate School of Business, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550, USA

Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 19, 179–199, 2002


XIN LI Copenhagen Business School

VERNER WORM Copenhagen Business School

Submitted to Academy of Management 2015 annual conference On 8 December 2014
Submission number: 10466

Click to access Solutions%20to%20Organizational%20Paradox%20(1).pdf

Exploring Paradox: Toward a More Comprehensive Guide

M Lewis

Article in The Academy of Management Review · October 2000 

DOI: 10.2307/259204


Marco Berti

The Lived Experience of Paradox: How Individuals Navigate Tensions during the Pandemic Crisis




IMD Business School


UCL School of Management, London

Academy of Management Discoveries 2016, Vol. 2, No. 1, 51–78.
Online only

System of Systems Management

Brian Sauser, John Boardman, and Alex Gorod

Stevens Institute of Technology, USA

System of Systems – Innovations for the 21st Century, 

Edited by [Mo Jamshidi]. ISBN 0-471-XXXXX-X Copyright © 2008 Wiley[Imprint], Inc.


M. Ann Welsh

Department of Management College of Business Administration University of Cincinnati
P.O. Box 210165 Cincinnati, OH 45221-0165 513-556-7136

Gordon E. Dehler

Organizational Sciences Program The George Washington University 2147 F Street NW Washington, DC 20052 202-994-1880

A Paradox Approach to Societal Tensions during the Pandemic Crisis

Garima Sharma1, Jean Bartunek2, Patrice M. Buzzanell3,
Simone Carmine4, Carsyn Endres5, Michael Etter6,7, Gail Fairhurst5, Tobias Hahn8, Patrick Lê9, Xin Li7,10, Vontrese Pamphile11,
Camille Pradies12, Linda L. Putnam13, Kimberly Rocheville2, Jonathan Schad6, Mathew Sheep14, and Joshua Keller15

Journal of Management Inquiry
2021, Vol. 30(2) 121–137

Communicative dynamic to reconstruct paradoxes in organizations

Harald Tuckermann
University of St. Gallen,

Thomas Schumacher
University of St. Gallen,

Johannes Rüegg-Stürm
University of St. Gallen,

Chapter 4

The seven pillars of paradoxical organizational wisdom: On the use of paradox as a vehicle to synthesize knowledge and ignorance

in Book Wisdom Learning Edition 1st Edition First Published 2016
Imprint Gower
eBook ISBN 9781315547039

From Vicious to Virtuous Paradox Dynamics: The Social-symbolic Work of Supporting Actors

Camille PradiesAndrea TunarosaMarianne W. Lewis,

 …First Published March 18, 2020

Dynamic Capabilities and Strategic Paradox: a case study

Patrick bohl

Click to access VT_2015n11p25.pdf

Here Be Paradox: How Global Business Leaders Navigate Change

Janet Ann  Nelson

Advances in Global Leadership

ISBN: 978-1-78754-298-3, eISBN: 978-1-78754-297-6

ISSN: 1535-1203

Publication date: 26 November 2018

Grasping the dynamics within paradox – comparing exogenous and endogenous approaches to paradox using social systems theory

PROS 2019 – draft version 12.05.19

Harald Tuckermann, Simone Gutzan, Camille Leutenegger, Johannes Rüegg-Stürm,

Institute of Systemic Management and Public Governance, University of St. Gallen, Dufourstrasse 40a, 9008 St. Gallen, Switzerland,


Paradoxes in supply chains: a conceptual framework for packed products

Henrik Palsson
Faculty of Engineering, Lund University, Lund, Sweden, and

Erik Sandberg

Department of Logistics and Quality Management, Link€oping University, Link€oping, Sweden

The International Journal of Logistics Management

Vol. 31 No. 3, 2020 pp. 423-442

Top managers’ improvisational decision-making in crisis: a paradox perspective


Pooya Tabesh

Dusya Vera

Navigate Paradox in Organizations: The Implications of Combining Theory of Paradox with Practice

Mourad Mechiche
Independent Scholar, Vihastenkarinkatu 21-23 G, Raahe, Finland

European Journal of Business and Management ISSN 2222-1905 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2839 (Online)
Vol.12, No.29, 2020

We Have To Do This and That? You Must be Joking: Constructing and Responding to Paradox Through Humor

Paula A. Jarzabkowski

City University London, UK

Jane K. Lê

The University of Sydney, Australia

Organization Studies 2017, Vol. 38(3-4) 433–462

Paradox beyond East/West orthodoxy: The case of Ubuntu

Medhanie Gaim

Umeå School of Business, Economics and Statistics, Sweden

Stewart Clegg
University Technology Sydney, Australia & Nova School of Business and Economics, Carcavelos, Portugal

Responding to competing strategic demands: How organizing, belonging, and performing paradoxes coevolve

Paula Jarzabkowski

City University, UK; Cornell University, USA

Strategic Organization 11(3) 245–280.


A Paradox Approach to Organizational Tensions During the Pandemic Crisis

Simone Carmine1, Constantine Andriopoulos2, Manto Gotsi3 ,
Charmine E. J. Härtel4, Anna Krzeminska5, Nkosana Mafico4,
Camille Pradies6, Hassan Raza7, Tatbeeq Raza-Ullah8,
Stephanie Schrage9 , Garima Sharma10, Natalie Slawinski11, Lea Stadtler12, Andrea Tunarosa13, Casper Winther-Hansen14 , and Joshua Keller15

Journal of Management Inquiry
2021, Vol. 30(2) 138–153


Ella Miron-Spektor

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Haifa 32000, Israel
Tel: 972-4-829-4439
Fax: 972-4-829-5688

Amy Ingram Clemson University

Josh Keller
Nanyang Technological University

Wendy K. Smith University of Delaware

Marianne W. Lewis University of London

Narrative, Rhetoric and Possible Worlds

Narrative, Rhetoric and Possible Worlds

‘Time has no being since the future is not yet, the past is no longer, and the present does not remain.’ (Ricoeur 1984: 7)

A rhetorician, I take it, is like one voice in a dialogue. Put several such voices together, with each voicing its own special assertion, let them act upon one another in cooperative competition, and you get a dialectic that, properly developed, can lead to the views transcending the limitations of each.

“Rhetoric-Old and New” (1950)

Connecting Scenarios with Strategy and Action

How to bring about social, organizational, and strategic change?

For several years now, I have been attempting to piece together various strands of knowledge scattered around in boundaries of institutions and academic disciplines. I see a pattern emerging as to how we can attempt to bring about social, cultural, organizational change for strategic management.

More I read and learn, I find astonishing that all we need now is ability to read past knowledge hidden in old books correctly.

Dialectic (Alternatives/Scenarios) + Narratives (Stories) + Rhetoric (Persuasion) = Effective communication and action with scenarios for strategic management.

Narrative Scenarios

Source: Creating narrative scenarios: Science fiction prototyping at Emerge

Scenarios are stories. In the diverse field of scenario planning, this is perhaps the single point of universal agreement. Yet if scenarios are stories, their literary qualities are often underdeveloped. Scenarios used in business and government frequently do not contain a relatable protagonist, move a plot toward resolution, or compellingly use metaphor, imagery, or other emotionally persuasive techniques of literature. In these cases, narrative is relegated to an adjunct role of summarizing the final results of the workshop. While this neglect of narrative may be reasonable in some contexts, the power of narrative should not be underestimated. Scenario planning methodologies can benefit from using diverse narrative techniques to craft compelling and infectious visions of the future. This article explores the relationship between science fiction and scenarios as story genres and investigates a creative story-telling technique, ‘‘Science Fiction Prototyping’’ (Johnson, 2011). While the method is promising, it is an ultimately problematic means to incorporating narrative into scenario planning.

Key Terms

  • Possible Worlds
  • Futures
  • Narratives
  • Meaning Making
  • Temporality
  • Scenarios
  • Alternatives
  • Rhetoric and Dialectic
  • Acts of Meaning
  • Actual Minds, Possible Worlds
  • World Views
  • Beliefs
  • Culture
  • Meaningful
  • Competition
  • Cooperation
  • Coopetition
  • Socially Extended Mind
  • Six Degrees of Separation
  • Strategic Management
  • Law of Requisite Variety
  • Explicit vs Implicit
  • Tacit Knowledge
  • Assumptions
  • Contextual Environment
  • Operative Environment
  • Many Futures
  • Possibilities Space
  • Uncertainty
  • Complexity
  • Ambiguity
  • Normative Futures
  • Strategic Change Management
  • Social Change
  • Organizational Change
  • Cultural Change
  • Images of the Future
  • Subjunctivization
  • Jerome Bruner
  • Kenneth Burke
  • Strategy as Practice
  • Narrative Scenarios
  • Narratives and Strategy
  • Matti Hyvärinen
  • Victor Turner
  • Groups
  • Boundaries
  • Hierarchies
  • Inclusion and Exclusion
  • Networks

The narrative turn and Bruner’s contributions.

Source: Jerome Bruner and the challenges of the narrative turn

I take Jerome Bruner’s books, articles, and chapters that relate to narrative as a starting point for my contribution. He published most these texts between 1985 and 1991 (Bruner, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991). Later, at 80 years of age, Bruner published a book on culture, education and narrative (Bruner, 1996), and more recently, a monograph on narratives (Bruner, 2002). The texts he wrote in the second half of the 1980s are at the heart of his contribution to the narrative field. The two later books mentioned are reworked texts on the same subject matter, though with a focus on education and law, on which he also co-authored another important book (Amsterdam & Bruner, 2000).

In the mid-1980s, drawing on the discipline of psychology, Bruner sets criticism of cognitive psychology as a basis for his work, stressing that cognitive psychology had betrayed and narrowed down its initial agenda, to which he himself had so resolutely contributed. Its approach progressively had morphed into a simplistic approach to the processing of information; or, in other words, into a computational model of the mind.

Bruner throws into these foundational texts his theoretical and ideological interests, in a search for connections between psychology on the one hand, and literature, humanities and anthropology on the other. This is an innovative, courageous approach that aimed at shaking the foundations of the psychological study of language, cognition, education, personality, self and identity.

Bruner places himself within the framework of a tradition which he upholds and to which he wants to contribute. A classical precedent among the ancestors of this tradition would be Aristotle’s Poetics, in addition to the much more recent L. S. Vygotsky, A. Schütz, M. Weber, K. Burke and C. Geertz. The interpretive turn, according to Bruner, started in the first quarter of the 20th century, first surfacing in literature, then moving on successively to history, social sciences and epistemology, and eventually reaching the domain of education between the 80s and 90s. Towards the mid-70s meaning became a central element in social sciences. The moment of transition specifically related to the narrative turn (understood as the growing interest in narrative in both research and practice) occurred over the course of the 80s, which, according to Bruner, is when the idea of self as a narrator or a storyteller became more evident. This new momentum was reflected in a short space of time in various influential books from different disciplines: oral history (P. Thompson, F. Ferrarotti), anthropology (C. Geertz), sociology (D. Bertaux, K. Plummer, N. Denzin), philosophy (P. Ricoeur), education (I. Goodson, G. Pineau), and the humanities (D. Polkinghorne). It is interesting to note that all of these books were published within a seven-year period, which shows that the ecology of ideas shapes emerging paradigms based on a set of new, shared assumptions across different fields.

These epistemological transformations form part of a broader intellectual movement – the qualitative approach. This approach has been characterized by its critical stance vis-à-vis positivism, the broader redefinition of the concept of human sciences, a focus on interpretation and on the construction of meaning, as well as the use of qualitative research methods and techniques, such as the open interview, participative observation, action research, and life stories. Constructivism, postmodernism and literary studies on their part have influenced the development of these tendencies, and the said approaches have had a major impact on psychology and education. It is therefore in this grand panorama of epistemological and methodological renovation where we are to place Jerome Bruner, as the innovator of the narrative paradigm that he is (Spector-Mersel, 2010; Domingo, 2005; Shore, 1997).

Bruner has highlighted the importance of meaning as a central process of the individual mind as well as of social interaction. In psychology there can be no avoiding of the problem of meaning, and when it is tackled, the creation of meaning needs to be placed within a community of practice. Culturalism assumes a shared and symbolic mode of preserving, creating and communicating the human world. Meanings have a situated character and this allows their negotiability and communicability. Bruner frequently mentions C. Geertz when specifying his own conception of culture, and emphasizes Geertz’s idea of cultures as texts (Lutkehaus, 2008; Mattingly, Lutkehaus & Throop, 2008). Within this cultural perspective, Bruner’s contribution finds itself placed within the vast domain of cultural psychology, in which he connects with researchers such as as M. Cole, B. Rogoff and J. V. Wertsch.

Characteristics and functions of narratives.

Bruner returns to earlier studies on narrative, he redefines them and brings them into the sphere of social sciences, and into cultural psychology in particular (for a synthesis on narrative and psychology until 1980, see Polkinghorne, 1987, pp. 101-123). In taking on this task, Bruner is conscious of the difficulties and the risks of his intellectual venture. But he also considers his initiative a way to invigorate the intellectual and methodological situation of psychology and other social sciences in the mid-80s. Bruner begins this phase with a text of enormous influence (Bruner, 1985), in which he defends the existence of two basic modes of thinking: paradigmatic or logical-scientific thinking and narrative thinking. The two modes operate with different means, ends and legitimacy criteria. The narrative mode is based on common knowledge and stories; it is interested in the vicissitudes of human actions, it develops practical and situated knowledge; it has a temporal structure and it emphasizes the agentivity of social actors (Bruner, 1985, 1987, 1991).

Bruner has shown great interest in literature and has explored the potential contributions of literature to social sciences. He points out that modern science has become less ontological and more epistemological, adding that literature has developed in the same direction. Literature offers a new and open outlook on the world. This is crucial for education, a field that can be characterized by the development of critical conscience and by the search for alternatives and possibilities. This is why Bruner affirms that democratic classrooms are the ideal place for novelists and poets, while dictatorships control literature and hinder creativity.

By concentrating on narrative, Bruner maintains and deepens his interest in language. This does not solely entail language development in babies and children but also the acquisition and evolution of narrative competence, a subject linked to the understanding of the minds of others. It also refers to philosophical and sociocultural dimensions of human language. Language is not neutral and this has profound implications when it is used in scientific, educational, social and political contexts. The visibility that Bruner has given to language and cognition is also important to note. He highlights the significance of speech and orality – which taken in their everyday contexts can be described as processes of expression, negotiation and exchange – out of which the theories emerge that guide people in their everyday lives to understand themselves as well as to understand others and to interact with them. This is related to studies on folk psychology, which are based on the contents and processes of knowledge of ordinary people. Here we find also, as part of a broader movement, the so-called linguistic turn. Contrary to Saussure’s conception of language as an abstract, balanced system, the new tendencies take an interactive and dialogical perspective, and underline the functions of speech in real, natural, everyday communicative contexts. In this field we can also not forget the influence of Bakhtin and his circle.

In addition, narratives are characterized by their complexity. Stories are about problems, dilemmas, contradictions and imbalances. They connect the past, the present and the future, and they link past experiences with what may be yet to come. Bruner calls this process of imagining and creating alternatives subjunctivization. For this reason he insists on the importance of the possible worlds, even in sectors such as law, in which the possibility of contemplating or foreseeing alternatives seemingly does not exist (Bruner, 2002). This capacity of narratives for imagining and constructing other worlds, and for trying to make them a reality, is an essential feature of the human capacity to transform our own selves as well as our social contexts. Narrative reality has a high level of complexity, which manifests itself through its specific characteristics: temporality, generic particularity, interpretability, implied canonicity, negotiability, ambiguous reference and historical extension (Bruner, 1996, 133-147).

Bruner has emphasized and criticized our ignorance of the subject of narrative. The knowledge of the ways in which we interpret, construct and use stories has been nonexistent or marginal in the education system as well as in other areas. Bruner also criticizes the lack of interest in narrative and the emphasis on logical-scientific knowledge modes (we know more about the right-angled triangle than about Aristotle’s Poetics). In an attempt to change the situation, Bruner has invested much effort into introducing narrative to research, teaching, law and social debates. Teaching the art of narrative and storytelling represents a necessity but, at the same time, a challenge given the difficulty of the task.

Books by Jerome Bruner

Source: Wikipedia

Narratives in Organizational Studies

Source: A Review of Narrative Methodology

Case studies of narrative in organisational studies demonstrate how narrative can be used to effect cultural change, transfer complex tacit knowledge through implicit communication, construct identity, aid education, contribute to sense making, act as a source of understanding, and study decision making.

This review of storytelling positions narrative research largely within the postmodernist paradigm. Postmodernism came into use during the late 20 century, and questions the modernist philosophical assumptions of rationality and universal truth, and the application of scientific empirical methods to problem solving. Instead, postmodernism emphasises that knowledge is value-laden, and reality is based on multiple perspectives, with truth grounded in everyday life involving social interactions amongst individuals. Context plays a crucial role in the social construction of reality and knowledge. Its criticism of the modernist or positivist (empirical, rational) paradigm is based on the concept of social representation. Postmodernism is said to account for this limitation in modernism by acknowledging that stories told through language as the medium are constitutive of reality. Postmodernism emphasises the social nature of knowledge creation.

There is some indication that the narrative approach is gradually gaining recognition in various disciplines including those outside the social sciences. The approach is said to enable capture of social representation processes such as feelings, images, and time. It offers the potential to address ambiguity, complexity, and dynamism of individual, group, and organisational phenomena.

Rhetoric in Organizational and Social Sciences

Affective Rhetoric: Unity and Division

Source: Affective Rhetoric in China’s Internet Culture

According to Burke, rhetoric is “the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (Rhetoric 43). Rhetoric induces cooperation through symbols to effect an identification between a speaker and an audience and among members of organizations and social groups. It therefore also, and necessarily, both unifies individuals and groups and divides them from one another. It is thus a “simultaneous identification-with and division-from” (46). As recent scholarship has demonstrated, however, Burke’s view of language encompasses both its symbolic and affective dimensions (Hawhee 83-86). In Permanence and Change, Burke observes the “remarkable affective responsiveness” required “to be terrified at a gun the first time in one’s life a gun is pointed at one, and without ever having been shot” (149). This affective responsiveness is not solely a bodily reaction but is a consequence of “our interpretations of the signs, [which,] be they true or false, can instigate the most intense affections” (149). Debra Hawhee explains this affective responsiveness as “a serialized process of meaning making whereby affect enters at every step, forming and reforming what is called rational” (84). In Language as Symbolic Action, Burke insists that computers are incapable of this kind of affective responsiveness. Computers, he explains, “not being biological organisms, . . . lack the capacity for pleasure or pain (to say nothing of such subtler affective states as malice, envy, amusement, condescension, friendliness, sentimentality, embarrassment, etc.)” (23). Contemporary theories of affect show, however, how computers can facilitate and enable the serialized process of meaning making that Hawhee attributes to Burke.

Persuasion in the Rhetorical Tradition


List of selected studies

Source: Strategy as Practice and the Narrative Turn

Key References

  • Introduction to Narrative For Futures Studies
  • Creating narrative scenarios: Science fiction prototyping at Emerge
  • Strategy as Practice and the Narrative Turn

My Related Posts

Networks, Narratives, and Interaction

Kenneth Burke and Dramatism

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Narrative Psychology: Language, Meaning, and Self

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Phenomenological Sociology

Phenomenology and Symbolic Interactionism

Global Trends, Scenarios, and Futures: For Foresight and Strategic Management

Shell Oil’s Scenarios: Strategic Foresight and Scenario Planning for the Future

Water | Food | Energy | Nexus: Mega Trends and Scenarios for the Future

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Art of Long View: Future, Uncertainty and Scenario Planning

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Key Sources of Research:

A Tripartite Self-Construction Model of Identity


Bar-Ilan University

In TELLING STORIES: Language, Narrative, and Social Life 

Deborah Schiffrin, Anna De Fina, and Anastasia Nylund, Editors

The Narrative Construction of Reality

Jerome Bruner

Critical Inquiry 18 (Autumn 1991)

Click to access bruner1991narrative.pdf



New York University

Jerome Bruner and the challenges of the narrative turn

Then and now

José González Monteagudo University of Seville, Spain

(Narrative Inquiry, Clark University/USA, 21, 2, 295-302, ISSN: 1368-6740).

Life as Narrative

Jerome Bruner

Click to access Bruner_J_LifeAsNarrative.pdf

Chapter 1
Narrative Inquiry: From Story to Method

Margaret S. Barrett and Sandra L. Stauffer

In Narrative Inquiry in Music Education : Troubling Certainty

Jerome Bruner. A psychologist beyond any border

Piero Paolicchi

Introduction to Narrative For Futures Studies

Vuokko Jarva

University of Helsinki Finland

Journal of Futures Studies, March 2014, 18(3): 5-26

Reaching for Meaning : Human Agency and the Narrative Imagination

Jens Brockmeier
Theory Psychology 2009 19: 213

DOI: 10.1177/0959354309103540

Click to access Reaching-for-Meaning.pdf

Complexity Thinking, Complex Practice: The case for a narrative approach to Organizational Complexity

Mary J Hatch

Conversation at the Border Between Organizational Culture Theory
and Institutional Theory

Mary Jo Hatch and Tammar Zilber

Journal of Management Inquiry
21(1) 94–97
DOI: 10.1177/1056492611419793

Cultural Paradigms in Management Sciences 

Łukasz Sułkowski

Management and Business Administration.Central Europe


Click to access MBA_03_2013_Sulkowski_050.pdf


Yiannis Gabriel

School of Management Imperial College

Cassell, Catherine and Gillian Symon (eds.), An essential guide to qualitative research methods in organizations, Sage Publications, London

Making Sense of Stories: A Rhetorical Approach to Narrative Analysis

Martha S. Feldman

University of California at Irvine

Kaj Sko ̈ldberg

Stockholm University

Ruth Nicole Brown Debra Horner University of Michigan

The Sociology of Storytelling

Francesca Polletta, Pang Ching Bobby Chen,

Beth Gharrity Gardner, and Alice Motes

Department of Sociology, University of California, Irvine, California 92697; email:,,,

Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2011. 37:109–30

This article’s doi: 10.1146/annurev-soc-081309-150106

Click to access Polletta,%20Chen,%20Gardner%20&%20Motes%20(2011)%20-%20The%20sociology%20of%20storytelling.pdf

Strategy as Practice and the Narrative Turn

Christopher Fenton

HEC Montréal

Ann Langley

HEC Montréal

Organization Studies 32(9) 1171–1196 /2011

Click to access GePS-08-06.pdf

What Is Complexity Science? A Possible Answer from Narrative Research

 John T. Luhman & David M. Boje

EMERGENCE, 3(1), 158–68

Phenomenology of embodied implicit and narrative knowing

Wendelin Ku ̈pers
Wendelin Ku ̈pers is a Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Open University Hagen, Hagen, Germany.



The University of Texas at Austin

The University of Texas at Austin and University of Nordland

Academy of Management Review 2014, Vol. 39, No. 1, 22–43.

Narrative Temporality: Implications for Organizational Research

Ann L. Cunliffe, John T. Luhman and David M. Boje

Organization Studies
25(2): 261–286 ISSN 0170–8406 /2004

Time and Narrative Volume 1

Paul Ricoeur


Translated by Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer

The Handbook of Narrative Analysis, First Edition.

Edited by Anna De Fina and Alexandra Georgakopoulou.

© 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Anniina Rantakari

University of Oulu

Eero Vaara
Aalto University School of Business EMLYON Business School Lancaster University

A Review of Narrative Methodology

Narrative and Rhetorical Approaches to Problems of Education.

Jerome Bruner and Kenneth Burke Revisited

Kris Rutten • Ronald Soetaert

Published online: 24 August 2012

Stud Philos Educ (2013) 32:327–343 DOI 10.1007/s11217-012-9324-5

Applying Burke’s Dramatic Pentad to scenarios

Allan W Shearer

Department of Landscape Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA

Available online 21 May 2004.

Creating narrative scenarios: Science fiction prototyping at Emerge

Michael Burnam-Fink 

Futures 70 (2015) 48–55

Gramma of Motives: The Drama of Plato’s Tripartite Psychology

John J. Jasso

Philosophy & Rhetoric Vol. 53, No. 2 (2020), pp. 157-180 (24 pages) 

Published By: Penn State University Press

Kenneth Burke on Dialectical-Rhetorical Transcendence

James P. Zappen

Philosophy & Rhetoric 

Vol. 42, No. 3 (2009), pp. 279-301 (23 pages) 

Published By: Penn State University Press

Affective Rhetoric in China’s Internet Culture

10th Triennial Kenneth Burke Society Conference Conflicts & Communities: Burke Studies in a World Divided East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, June 8-11, 2017

James P. Zappen

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Persuasion in the Rhetorical Tradition

J. Michael Hogan

Click to access 51183_CH_1.pdf

Kenneth Burke’s New Deal

Dries Vrijders Ghent University

‘Dramatistic to the Core’: Allen Tate and A Grammar of Motives

M. Elizabeth Weiser Ohio State University

The Space Between, Volume V:1 2009 ISSN 1551-9309

Rhetoric of Motives

Kenneth Burke

Click to access kenneth_burke_-_a_rhetoric_of_motives_1950.pdf

Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative.

Jahn, Manfred. 2005.

English Department, University of Cologne.

Click to access 0cef85a3-0b78-4bf8-8fa2-f2e8e57f5092.pdf

‘Roleplaying to Improve Resilience’. 

Shearer, A. W.

Architecture_MPS 18, 1 (2021): 6. DOI:

Does the intuitive logics method – and its recent enhancements – produce “effective” scenarios?

George Wright a,⁎, Ron Bradfield b, George Cairns

Technological Forecasting & Social Change (2012)

The Handbook of Narrative Analysis

Edited by

Anna De Fina and Alexandra Georgakopoulou

From Ritual to Theater

the Human Seriousness of Play

Victor Turner

Victor Turner’s Postmodern Theory of Social Drama:

Implications for Organization Studies

David M. Boje, Ph.D., New Mexico State University

August 1, 2003

A Narrative to Approach to Strategy as Practice: strategy making from texts and narratives.

Valérie-Inès de la Ville, Eléonore Mounoud.

Damon Golsorkhi; Linda Rouleau; David Seidl; Eero Vaara.

Cambridge Handbook of Strategy as Practice, Cambridge University Press, pp.249-264, 2015, 978- 1107421493. halshs-01390100

Rhetoric, Discourse and Argument in Organizational Sense Making: A Reflexive Tale

Tony J. Watson

First Published September 1, 1995

A narrative approach to strategy-as-practice.

Brown, A.D. & Thompson, E.R. 2013.

Business History 55, 7: 1143-1167

Kenneth Burke’s Dramatistic Pragmatism:
A Missing Link between Classical Greek Scholarship and the Interactionist Study of Human Knowing and Acting1

Robert Prus

University of Waterloo, Canada

2017 QSR Volume XIII Issue 2

Click to access QSR_13_2_Prus.pdf

Jerome Bruner


History of Classical Rhetoric – An overview of its early development (1)

Posted on October 16, 2012