Seeing both the wood and the trees: An ethnographic hike through paradox

Bloomfield, Sarah (2021). Seeing both the wood and the trees: An ethnographic hike through paradox. PhD thesis University of Bath.



This thesis explores the lived experience of conflicting organisational objectives. The study is distinctive in that it highlights the way that contradictions are lived, and the impact those contradictions have on leadership, organisation, the way things work, how things are done, and how things are thought about within organisations. The findings can help members understand the way in which contradictions are part of their and others’ lived experiences of organisations, and the usefulness of them.

Drawing on organisational paradox literature (Smith & Lewis, 2011; Schad et al. 2016), the thesis brings individual and organisational level insights together within four empirical papers. The papers focus on navigating paradoxes; leading in paradoxical situations; the significance of values in the navigation process; and individual positionality in the workplace. The papers contribute to the field of organisation studies through their identification of the role of organisational order in the navigation of paradox; not-knowing as a leadership capability; and the dynamic nature of values within organisations.

The research is based on an interpretive ethnographic methodology within Forestry England. Multiple methods of data collection were employed in the research including 55 interviews and 40 meeting observations. ‘Mysteries’ found within the field and data were used as starting points for data analysis, and a form of ‘tell and show’ was employed to aid generation of, and then presentation of, the empirical findings.

A first-person narrative is employed throughout the thesis to craft a story around how the research unfolded. This narrative sheds light on various decisions undertaken, including theory selection and approaches for data collection, as well as the researcher’s own experience of contradictions and tensions within the research process. As a result, the thesis highlights the lived experience of working with tensions and contradictions, and how this experience is shaped by the wider organisational order, for both the researcher and the researched.

Viewing alternatives

Item Actions