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Managing complexity: using ambivalence and contingency to support diversity in organizations

Iris Koall (Centre of Continuing Education, University of Wuppertal, Wuppertal, Germany)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 20 September 2011




The purpose of this paper is to describe and discuss complexity approaches of management theory, by focusing on their capacity to use efficiently contingence in organizations. As a theoretical framework the theory of social systems (Luhmann) is used, where a difference is made between complexity reduction and condensation. Complexity reduction is related to certain functional needs to control a hierarchical system. Complexity condensation redesigns communicative structures towards participative norm development, offering discursive connectivity, and decision making in networks. It is described how heterogeneous cultures in organizations have the chance to be successful by focusing their functional needs to include, to orient, and to motivate.


The paper opted for discussing theoretical frameworks to reconstruct management approaches to develop towards more diversity capacity in organizations. Theory of social systems is employed as basic methodology.


The chosen research reconstructs management approaches to focus on functional imperatives of organizational systems as well as the development of functional equivalents. The logic figure of functional equivalents describes alternatives of exclusive organizational cultures. Heterogeneity in organizations is based on the redesign of communicative procedures, structures and cultures.

Research limitations/implications

The aim of the paper is diversity theory development. It offers heuristic moments which might be useful in empirical research, too. Following the suggestion homogeneity is just an outcome of certain organizational decisions to deal with contingency and complexity, it might offer practical relevance by testing the capacity to change communication and interaction patterns. The culture‐function matrix also might offer an opportunity to discuss the paradigms of organizational development towards more diversity.

Practical implications

There might be the possibility to enhance conditions of observing organizations, but the practical implications might be rather limited.


Using theory of social systems (Luhmann) as theory which focuses complexity traits is rather undeveloped. It could offer insights in the capacity to deal with contingency, and the attempts to suppress it. Complexity in social systems could offer a prerequisite to support the interdisciplinary research in diversity studies.



Koall, I. (2011), "Managing complexity: using ambivalence and contingency to support diversity in organizations", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 30 No. 7, pp. 572-588.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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