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   Source : Handbook of Strategy and Management   

Dialectical Theory

A third family, dialectical theories, is rooted in the assumption that the organization exists in a pluralistic world of colliding events, forces, or contradictory values that compete with each other for domination and control. These oppositions may be internal to an organization because it may have several conflicting goals or interest groups competing for priority. Oppositions may also arise external to the organization as it pursues directions that collide with those of others (see Burawoy and Skocpol, 1982).

Dialectical process theories explain stability and change by reference to the relative balance of power between opposing entities. Stability is produced through struggles and accommodations that maintain the status quo between oppositions. Change occurs when these opposing values, forces, or events gain sufficient power to confront and engage the status quo. The relative power of an opposing paradigm or antithesis may mobilize to a sufficient degree to challenge the current thesis or state of affairs and set the stage for producing a synthesis. More precisely, the status quo subscribing to a thesis (A) may be challenged by an opposing entity with an antithesis (Not-A), and the resolution of the conflict produces a synthesis (which is Not Not-A). Over time, this synthesis can become the new thesis as the dialectical process recycles and continues. By its very nature, the synthesis is something created new that is discontinuous with thesis and antithesis.

Creative syntheses to dialectical conflicts are not assured. Sometimes an opposition group mobilizes sufficient power to simply overthrow and replace the status quo, just as many organizational regimes persist by maintaining sufficient power to suppress and prevent the mobilization of opposition groups. In the bargaining and conflict resolution literature, the desired creative synthesis is one that represents a win-win solution, while either the maintenance of the status quo or its replacement with an antithesis are often treated as win-lose outcomes of a conflict engagement. In terms of organizational change, maintenance of the status quo represents stability, while its replacement with either the antithesis or the synthesis represents a change, for the better or worse.