Strategic ambiguity as a rhetorical resource for enabling multiple interests

Paula Jarzabkowski, John Sillince, Duncan Shaw

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The literature on ambiguity reflects contradictory views on its value as a resource or a problem for organizational action. In this longitudinal empirical study of ambiguity about a strategic goal, we examined how strategic ambiguity is used as a discursive resource by different organizational constituents and how that is associated with collective action around the strategic goal. We found four rhetorical positions, each of which drew upon strategic ambiguity to construct the strategic goal differently according to whether the various constituents were asserting their own interests or accommodating wider organizational interests. However, we also found that the different constituents maintained these four rhetorical positions simultaneously over time, enabling them to shift between their own and other’s interests rather than converging upon a common interest. These findings are used to develop a conceptual framework that explains how strategic ambiguity might serve as a resource for different organizational constituents to assert their own interests whilst also enabling collective organizational action, at least of a temporary nature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-248
Number of pages30
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2010

Bibliographical note

The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in Human Relations, 63(2), February 2010 by SAGE Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. © The Author(s) 2010 Reprints and permission:


  • academic careers
  • change
  • collective action
  • context
  • organizational culture
  • organizational theory


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