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Words fly away, writings remain – paradoxes in and around documents: A methodological proposition

Valérie Michaud (ESG UQAM, Montreal, Canada)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Article publication date: 13 March 2017




This paper makes a case for the investigation of organizational paradoxes through the analysis of documents. After having presented what paradoxes are and the methodological challenges of studying them, the paper turns to document research, with emphasis on its potential contribution to paradox research. More specifically, document research typically provides ready-to-code data in a nonintrusive manner, allowing for the potential longitudinal, multilevel and multivoice analysis of organizational paradoxes and their management, in practice. To illustrate this, the purpose of this paper is to explore exemplar research based on multiple approaches to the study of different paradoxes in/around various documents and sets a research agenda.


Exemplar research on paradoxes using organizational documents as central data are presented. This highlights the range of documents and analytical strategies that can be used to explore organizations’ discursive management of paradoxes, as well as the roles documents can play in organizational contexts marked by different types of paradoxes.


A research agenda is developed, formulated around the needs to study paradoxes within documents and around them; grasp the discursive strategies deployed in documents to deal with paradoxes and/or the action of documents in contexts marked by paradoxes; follow the organizational processes involving documents, paying special attention to the paradoxes surrounding the development, adoption and appropriation of documents; and compare paradoxes in documents and those around the documents’ mobilization.


Despite growing interest in organizational paradoxes, reflections on methodological approaches to exploring them remain scarce and alternative methods largely unexplored. This paper makes the following proposition: organizational documents (strategic plans, annual reports, policies, websites, etc.) can provide a valuable entry point to explore organizational paradoxes.



The author would like to thank the participants to the EGOS 2012 paradox subtrack for comments on a very early version of this paper, especially Costas Andriopoulos and Wendy Smith, amongst other paradox folks. This research has benefitted from the financial support of the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC) initiative for new scholars.


Michaud, V. (2017), "Words fly away, writings remain – paradoxes in and around documents: A methodological proposition", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 35-52.



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