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Reviewing Paradox Theory in Corporate Sustainability Toward a Systems Perspective

Author

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  • Simone Carmine

    (University of Padova)

  • Valentina De Marchi

    (University of Padova)

Abstract

The complexity of current social and environmental grand challenges generates many conflicts and tensions at the individual, organization and/or systems levels. Paradox theory has emerged as a promising way to approach such a complexity of corporate sustainability going beyond the instrumental business-case perspective and achieving superior sustainability performance. However, the fuzziness in the empirical use of the concept of “paradox” and the absence of a systems perspective limits its potential. In this paper, we perform a systematic review and content analysis of the empirical literature related to paradox and sustainability, offering a useful guide for researchers who intend to adopt the concept of “paradox” empirically. Our analysis provides a comprehensive account of the uses of the construct - which allows the categorization of the literature into three distinct research streams: 1) paradoxical tensions, 2) paradoxical frame/thinking, and 3) paradoxical actions/strategies - and a comprehensive overview of the findings that emerge in each of the three. Further, by adopting a system perspective, we propose a theoretical framework that considers possible interconnections across the identified paradoxical meanings and different levels of analysis (individual, organizational, systems) and discuss key research gaps emerging. Finally, we reflect on the role a clear notion of paradox can have in supporting business ethics scholars in developing a more “immanent” evaluation of corporate sustainability, overcoming the current instrumental view.

Suggested Citation

  • Simone Carmine & Valentina De Marchi, 2023. "Reviewing Paradox Theory in Corporate Sustainability Toward a Systems Perspective," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 184(1), pages 139-158, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:184:y:2023:i:1:d:10.1007_s10551-022-05112-2
    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-022-05112-2
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