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Living with contradictions: the dynamics of senior managers in relation to sustainability

Allen, Stephen; Marshall, Judi; Easterby-Smith, Mark


Stephen Allen

Judi Marshall

Mark Easterby-Smith


In this article, we investigate how senior managers located in Northern Europe in the energy and power industry coordinate their recognition of sustainability challenges with other things they say and do. Identity theory is used to examine the fine-grained work through which the managers navigate identities and potentially competing narratives. In contrast with other studies we find that pursuing cohering identities and resolving potential tensions and contradictions does not appear to matter for most of the managers. We explore the dynamics of how managers live with apparent contradictions and tensions without threat to their narrative coherence. We extend existing research into managerial identities and sustainability by: showing how managers combine different potentially contrasting identity types; identifying nine discursive processes through which the majority of managers distance and deflect sustainability issues away from themselves and their companies; and, showing the contrasting identity dynamics in the case of one manager to whom narrative coherence becomes important and prompts alternative action.


Allen, S., Marshall, J., & Easterby-Smith, M. (2015). Living with contradictions: the dynamics of senior managers in relation to sustainability. Organization & environment, 28(3), 328-348.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Apr 15, 2015
Publication Date Sep 1, 2015
Deposit Date Apr 14, 2015
Publicly Available Date Apr 15, 2015
Journal Organization & environment
Print ISSN 1086-0266
Electronic ISSN 1552-7417
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 28
Issue 3
Pages 328-348
Keywords Organisational behaviour, Sustainability challenges, Senior managers, Identity dynamics
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Author's accepted manuscript of article published in: Organization & environment, 2015, v.8, issue 3


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