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Paradoxes of knowledge, management, and knowledge management in Africa

Special issue call for papers from Journal of Knowledge Management

Guest Editors:
Miguel Pina e Cunha (Nova SBE, Portugal)
Emanuel Gomes (Nova SBE, Portugal)
David Zoogah (Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA)
Geoffrey Wood (Essex University, UK)
Peter Ping Li (University of Nottingham Ningbo China, Centre for Creative Leadership, and Copenhagen Business School, Denmark)

Supervising Editor: Prof. Shlomo Tarba, Head of Department of Strategy & International Business, University of Birmingham, UK

Management and organization have been presented as conceptual and practical domains rife with paradoxes.  Cameron and Quinn (1988) referred to a paradox as a concept embracing contradiction and the clashing of ideas, “contradictory, mutually exclusive elements that are present and operate equally at the same time” (p. 2). For Van de Ven and Poole (1988, p.22) paradox refers to “the real or apparent contradiction between equally well-based assumptions or conclusions”. More recently, Smith and Lewis (2011, p.382) deemed paradox as “contradictory yet interrelated elements that exist simultaneously and persist over time”.

The vibrant literature on paradoxes has mostly treated the theme in accordance to traditions of East and West. From an Eastern perspective, paradox has been approached with the lens of ancient Chinese philosophies such as the Yin-Yang (Li, 2016). The Yin-Yang lens depicts the importance of balance and sees paradox as composed of synergy and trade-off. From a western perspective paradox has an important philosophical lineage dating back to the old Greeks, which challenges the confidence in common sense assumptions and introduces the notion of ontological plurality, sometimes involving absurdities.

As a result, theories that framed managerial knowledge have been dominated by a Western epistemology with some important Eastern incursions, which means that, at the end, there is a propensity for a “universalizing” mode of theory building rather than a truly endogenous understanding of organizations and their paradoxes in context (Jackson, 2013). West-based management theories may fail to capture non-Western concepts and philosophies (Holtbrugge, 2013), including their contradictions and paradoxes, namely those related to the construction of indigenous knowledge and the translation of foreign management knowledge.  In a comprehensive review of the literature on management of knowledge in Africa, Zoogah and Nkomo (2013, pp. 9) assert that “there is a dearth of meaningful management knowledge in Africa”. Various other scholars argue that the existing theoretical frameworks and managerial practices have been imported (mostly from the West) and without taking sufficient account of the local context, hence the need for the development of management theories more suitable to the context of Africa (Amankwah-Amoah, Boso, & Debrah, 2017; Angwin, Mellahi, Gomes, & Peter, 2016; Gomes, Vendrell-Herrero, Mellahi, Angwin & Sousa, forthcoming). For instance, whilst managerial knowledge and practices in African organisations have been mostly shaped by individualistic, instrumentalist and competitive  western theories and concepts, organisations face the paradox of having to operate in socio-cultural settings influenced by  ‘Ubuntu’, a philosophical trait characterised by collectivistic, paternalistic and interdependent reciprocal obligations (Kamoche, Chizema, Mellahi & Newenham-Kahindi, 2012). These few examples demonstrate the need for development of more Africa-centered knowledge, management and knowledge management rooted in the culture of Africa.

Among the various concepts and philosophies, not much is known about the expression of organizational paradoxes as related to the African context. Yet paradoxes do not emerge in social vacuums. In this special issue, we invite researchers to explore the paradoxes of knowledge, management, and knowledge management in the African context. African traditions diverge from those in the West and only a handful of papers have treated paradoxes in the continent’s context (e.g. Cunha, Fortes, Gomes, Rego, & Rodrigues, 2016). Yet, differences in institutions, cultures, habits and traditions, can shed important light on the relationship between paradoxes and the contexts of their occurrence.

Organizational tensions with paradoxical potential in Africa may involve the need to develop short-term flexibility while preparing organizations for the long run (Sarala, Cooper, Junni, & Tarba, 2014), combine foreign management practice with local culture (Gomes, Sahadev, Glaister & Demirbag, 2014; Perrin, Rolland & Stanley, 2007), offer standardized products or adapt them to local markets (Ang & Massingham, 2007), share knowledge by traditional or technological means (Kruger & Johnson, 2010), and deal with the tensions and contradictions of a colonial legacy in a post-colonial (and anti-colonial) era (Nkomo, 2011).

Different contexts can naturally elicit specific forms of contradiction leading to different paradoxes. Different contexts can tolerate some contradictions more than others (Peng & Nisbett, 1999). Some habits may differ from what is institutionalized in the West. In other words, it seems important to explore the specificities of knowledge, management and knowledge management in Africa.         

Topics for the special issue
Both conceptual and empirical submissions are invited to explore the paradoxes of knowledge, management, and knowledge management in the African context from various theoretical and practical lenses, examine its complexity and the methodologies suited to analyze this phenomenon in both the national and international arenas with a particular emphasis on the African context.

The contributions may address, but are not limited to, the following questions:
•    How can different alternatives and sometimes apparently opposing perspectives contribute to richer and more contextualized understanding of knowledge management in the context of Africa?
•    How can a perspective that, not only acknowledges but also values unavoidable tensions and dualities contribute to an effective management of paradoxes that result in the creation of context specific indigenous knowledge and theories?
•    How can acknowledged opportunities and challenges in Africa be understood and reinterpreted through a paradox lens?
•    How can managers operating in the context of Africa benefit from a paradox perspective in order to manage existing tensions and dualities? 
•    How can managers reconfigure organisational structures, strategy, resources, processes, procedures and practices in order to manage such tensions?
•    How can environmental tensions and organisational paradoxes faced by foreign organisations operating in the context of Africa differ from those prevalent in their home country settings? Are the challenges faced by organisations originated from western countries different from those from Asia?
•    How can scholars and managers reconcile such paradoxes and tensions with the aim to develop knowledge and management practices more suitable to the African context?
•    How can African embedded philosophies such as ‘Ubuntu’ assist with the development of more context specific knowledge and practices that facilitate the management of tensions, dualities and paradoxes prevalent in Africa?

•    Submission deadline: August 31, 2018
•    Decisions: October 31, 2018
•    Publication: expected from December, 2018

Submissions should be accompanied by an assurance of originality and exclusivity and should adhere to the ‘Style and Format’ author guidelines that can be found on the journal’s website at: All submissions are through the online submission system ScholarOne. Full submission details are in the author guidelines. Please ensure you submit to this special issue using the drop down menu on ScholarOne.

All submissions will be subject to a rigorous double-blind peer review process, with one or more of the guest editors acting as action editor.

For further information, please contact any of the guest editors for this special issue:
Miguel Pina Cunha, Nova School of Business and Economics, [email protected]
Emanuel Gomes, Nova School of Business and Economics, [email protected]
David Zoogah,  Xavier University, Cincinati, [email protected]
Geoffrey Wood, Essex University, UK,  [email protected] 
Peter Ping Li, University of Nottingham Ningbo China, Centre for Creative Leadership, and Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, [email protected]

Amankwah-Amoah, J., Boso, N., & Debrah, Y. A. (2017). Africa Rising in an Emerging World: An International Marketing Perspective. International Marketing Review. In Press.
Ang, Z. & Massingham, P. (2007) "National culture and the standardization versus adaptation of knowledge management", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 11 Issue: 2, pp.5-21,
Angwin, D. N., Mellahi, K., Gomes, E., & Peter, E. (2016). “How communication approaches impact mergers and acquisitions outcomes”. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 27(20), 2370-2397.
Cameron, K.S. & Quinn, R.E. (1988). Organizational paradox and transformation. In R.E. Quinn & K.S. Cameron (Eds.), Paradox and transformation (pp.1-18). Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.
Cunha, M.P., Fortes, A., Gomes, E., Rego, A. & Rodrigues, F. (2016). Ambidextrous leadership, paradox and contingency: Evidence from Angola. International Journal of Human Resource Management, DOI: 10.1080/09585192.2016.1201125.
Gomes, E., Sahadev, S., Glaister, A. J., & Demirbag, M. (2014). A comparison of international HRM practices by Indian and European MNEs: evidence from Africa. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, (ahead-of-print), 1-25.
Gomes, E., Vendrell-Herrero, F., Mellahi, K., Angwin, D. & Sousa (forthcoming). Testing the self-selection theory in high corruption environments: Evidence from African SMEs. International Marketing Review. 
Holtbrugge, D. (2013). Indigenous management research. Management International Review, 53, 1-11.  
Jackson, T. (2013). Reconstructing the indigenous in African management research: Implications for international management studies in a globalized world. Management International Review, 53, 13-38.    
Kamoche K, Chizema A, Mellahi K, and Newenham-Kahindi A. 2012. New directions in the management of human resources in Africa. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 23(14): 2825–2834.
Kruger, C.J. Johnson, R.D. (2010) "Principles in knowledge management maturity: a South African perspective", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 14 Issue: 4, pp.540-556,
Li, P.P. (2016). Global implications of the indigenous epistemological system from the East: How to apply yin-yang balancing to paradox management. Cross Cultural & Strategic Management, 23(1), 42-77.  
Nkomo, S. M. (2011). A postcolonial and anti-colonial reading of ‘African’leadership and management in organization studies: Tensions, contradictions and possibilities. Organization, 18(3), 365-386.
Peng, K. & Nisbett, R.E. (1999). Culture, dialectics, and reasoning about contradiction. American Psychologist, 54, 741-754.    
Perrin, A., Rolland, N. & Stanley, T. (2007) "Achieving best practices transfer across countries", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 11 Issue: 3, pp.156-166,
Sarala, R.M., Cooper, C., Junni, P. & Tarba, S. (2014). A socio-cultural perspective on knowledge transfer in mergers and acquisitions. Journal of Management (Forthcoming).
Smith, W.K. & Lewis, M.W. (2011). Toward a theory of paradox: A dynamic equilibrium model of organizing. Academy of Management Review, 36, 381-403.
Van de Ven, A. & Poole, M.S. (1988). Paradoxical requirements for a theory of change. In K. Cameron & R.E. Quinn (Eds.), Paradox and transformation (pp. 19-63). Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.      
Zoogah, D. & Nkomo, S. (2013), “Management Research in Africa: Past, Present and Future”,  Eds. Lituchy, T., Punnett, B. and Puplampu, B. In Management in Africa: Macro and Micro Perspectives, Routledge, New York, pp. 9-31.