Stories of contradiction

Management and organization studies have been revealing an abundance of stories that counter orthodox rational choice models. Despite the ability to engage readers, counter-narratives against conventional views on organizations, such as machine, biological/organic, game, dramaturgical, and ritual models, appear to remain to be conceived as context-specific, thus, less generalizable stories or episodes. By focusing on the ability of counter-intuitive stories to induce more engaged reading, a kind of meta-theory can be established so that intricate processes of organizing entailed in such stories could be utilized in a more systematic manner. Before going into establishment of the meta-theory, this post explains why and how stories that contain contradictions, paradoxes and/or duality are able to engage readers; and how such an ability can be utilized for the development of the meta-theory.

I coined a term ‘triadic story’ to make explicit the distinctive ability of stories that contain contradictions, paradoxes and/or duality to engage readers. A triadic story refers to a story told by the author of the story. In contrast, non-triadic stories are represented by conventional scientific narratives that expect texts to speak for themselves about reality, typically with empirical evidence, rigorous methods and coherent logic. In the context of social science, narrators of study reports are normally preferred to refrain from expressing their private concerns and interests: Value-neutrality is a norm even if it is unrealizable. Hence, even studies that reveal very insightful and counter-intuitive stories in organizations are keen to how to present ‘facts’ in ways that contribute to filling in gaps between the extant knowledge systems and real-life organizations.

I see in such subtle but painstaking efforts on the side of researchers potentials to innovate research practices. Specifically, triadic stories can materialize parrhesiastic chains of conversations, whereby each conversant reads or appreciates interlocutors’ moral concerns to the extent that s/he attempts to communicate with them by means of valid facts by reference to contextual relevance. Put it in another way, researchers’ normative concerns for presenting facts validated by rigorous methods and theories can be re-appreciated as a means by which to communicate different actors’ different truths.

Such is possible because triadic stories are actually told by researchers who must have been intrigued by their subjects’ reality, rather than their attempting to make texts speak for themselves or to reproduce the subjects’ reality. In other words, contradictions, paradoxes and/or duality presented in triadic stories are researchers’ imaginative creation driven by their investigative interests and concerns. Despite or because of the creative inventiveness, they make all the efforts to convey reliable and relevant information in compliance with the norm of value-neutrality. What is necessary for re-appreciating the researchers’ normal concerns is to assume that triadic stories conceal behind them authors’ creative inventiveness so that they can be understood as an effective means to know reality better by accessing different actors’ different truths, rather than authors’ insistence on what is true and real. As has been indicated earlier, in the processes of authoring triadic stories, mediation occurrs between researchers and their subjects over respective interests and concerns such that triadic stories embed in them different actors’ different truths if not reproduce them. Simply put, communications by means of study reports can be seen as parrhasia by presuming that study reports are triadic stories.

Triadic stories can engage readers because of the story’s ability to mediate different actors’ different concerns by means of texts. Hence, virtually any texts can be read as triadic stories. However, stories that contain contradictions, paradoxes and/or duality are more susceptible to the triadic manner of reading because these are difficult to be spoken of by texts for themselves. Moreover, stories of contradictions and paradoxes are worth being read in a triadic manner because they account for more intricate processes of organizing than those can be accounted for by conventional models. The next post will elaborate how to operationalize the concept of triadic stories to establish a framework (meta-theory) which materializes communications for knowing reality better by accessing as diverse actors’ diverse truths as possible, which I call ‘appreciative reviewing’.

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