This document is presenting an evaluation of the article “Responding to competing strategic demands: How organizing, belonging, and performing paradoxes coevolve” by Jarzabkowski P, Lê J and Van de Ven AH, published at the journal of Strategic Organization in 2013. In order to make a correct assessment, it has been chosen the guidelines of Whetten (1989) in the paper “What constitutes a theoretical contribution”. At the same time, for the purpose of clarity, this evaluation has been organized according the assessment criteria in 3 sections: Articulation of the phenomenon in question, Evaluation of the articulation of the theoretical contribution and Overall assessment of the article. Finally, it was added a few of conclusions and suggestions within the last section, in order go in line with Whetten point of view of a correct evaluation of a journal.
- Articulation of the phenomenon in question:
There are at least 3 claims in relation to the phenomena examined by Jarzabkowski et al. 2013. The first one observed is Organizations are inherently paradoxical. Considering a paradox as a continuous tension between two cognitively or socially constructs that contains conflicting truths. These paradoxes can be as basic as creating the familiar out of the strange, good and evil, life and death, the sense of self/other. Furthermore, paradoxes are also found in the marketplace with firms showing examples of tensions such as strategic alliances and partnerships between two companies that both collaborate and compete with each other, or the case that while fostering employee autonomy, management also enforce systems of tracking employees’ comings and goings (Lewis, 2000). Nonetheless, Jarzabkowski et al. (2013) went deeper in their research by also mentioning types of paradox that occur at different levels for analysis: Organizing, Performing, Belonging, and Learning. This is quite interesting as they were laying the grounds for a theoretical framework while describing the phenomena, to later establish their contribution to existing organizational theory on this matter.
The second claim is that the phenomena observed not only considers how firms are paradoxical but also examines the way in which actors respond to paradoxes that create an impact on the organizational restructuring. In that sense, actors perceive a phenomenon by establishing boundaries around it, seeking to ease their understanding and as result provide an appropriate response (Lewis, 2000). Other actors usually characterize a phenomenon by explaining what it is not, for instance by differentiating trust from mistrust, harmony from discord (Weick & Westley, 1996: 455- 456).
The third claim is that there is no clear one-to-one correspondence between paradox type and response but a list of responses that differ according to the context, thus seeking to establish a balance between paradoxes. This claim is quite crucial, because it will be the basics of its future theoretical contribution as the manuscript states: “it is critical to go beyond the Smith and Lewis (2011) framework of matched pairs in order to understand the dynamics through which paradoxes are interlinked and the way they generate outcomes that shape the ongoing response to paradox. That is the focus of this article.” (Jarzabkowski et al. 2013, p. 250)
2. Evaluation of the
articulation of the theoretical contribution:
As mentioned in before, it seems that the theoretical contribution lies in the understanding about how management responses shape a paradox experience in a organization. In that sense, Whetten (1989) suggests to breakdown the potential contribution into the following elements:
- What: there were 4 variables chosen by the authors of the manuscripts in terms of responses to paradoxes: Splitting, Suppressing, Opposing and Adjusting. However, the way they introduced these 4 was rather rushed, leaving behind two factors, perhaps deleted because they add little value for understanding. These were Separating and Confronting, I personally would have liked to further explore why they didn’t add the last two. In addition to this, other observed units considered where Organizing, Belonging and Performing paradoxes.
- How: it was very satisfactory that the authors provided graphs to help clarify their thinking and help reader comprehension, these where Figure 2 and Figure 3. The last one was very useful because it clearly shows causality between observed units. Using Defensive / Active paths as connective arrows between variables.
- When: the manuscript mentions several occasions the timeframe in which the phenomenon is being addressed, but not in a specific way, for example it has been found frequently the term “how paradoxes unfold over time”, lacking a specific date, time or duration. It is not clear if the authors considered what would it happen over time with the observed phenomenon according the theoretical contribution they are trying to make. Having said that, they made clear how actors’ responses to paradoxes are in fact cyclical, following a recursively pattern, presenting time in response cycles. This way of considering time, raises an important question that the authors might not have considered during their research. The nature of recursion and cycles are infinity?if considering a finite organization with finite actors, is it possible to exhaust (fatigue) the defensive/active paths of actors responses over the long term in a way that the cycle simply stops?
- Why: The manuscript began by building a framework that integrates comprehensive understandings of paradox from philosophy, psychology, and organization studies, all of them by establishing his theoretical framework on Lewis (2000) as well as Smith and Lewis (2011). It seems the main motivation was more on the realm of understanding social and organizational dynamics rather than proposing any suggestions to resolve or avoid paradoxes response cycles.
assessment of the article:
Is the theoretical contributionrelevant? useful (utility)? Firstly yes, it shows new relationships between variables and presents the whole framework in a recursively pattern, highlighting how Organizing, Belonging and Performing paradoxes are mutually shaped by actors responses. This might not significantly alter our understanding of the main phenomena but manages to provide a better perspective of how organizations are inherently paradoxical. Secondly, as a suggestion for further research on this manuscript, it would be interesting to add to their framework the variables Separating and Confronting, originally presented by Strauss and Corbin (1998). Perhaps these two observed units would expand and enhance the article theoretical framework for the claim of “how actors respond to paradoxes that create an impact on the organizational restructuring”.
Third, in terms of who cares, this article has been downloaded more than 1793 times and has been cited in 108 documents, these suggest their research is rather relevant on this field. Finally, the proposed theoretical framework in fact clarifies how paradoxical tensions arise from polarized cognitive or social constructions in an organization, how actors’ defensive reactions fuel cycles. A final suggestion is that for future research, to continue deep understanding how actors can actually avoid becoming stuck in these paralysing vicious cycles.