Constructing sustainability in organisations: identity and boundaries in complex adaptive systems

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In this paper we advance the argument that sustainability in organisations is constructed through actors’ negotiation of identities and boundaries in complex systems. The paper offers a process-based, practical approach to understanding and constructing sustainability in a complex systems framework, to our knowledge for the first time. Theoretically we draw from complexity theory, systems theory, and social constructionism in building our perspective. Practically, we assert that boundary critique and identity work, both established methodologies in the social sciences, become core tools of the sustainability-minded manager. The paper aims to make three contributions. First, we present a conceptual framework for understanding sustainability from a systems perspective, specifically within the context of complex adaptive systems (CAS) and social construction. Second, we advance boundary critique and identity work at the edge of chaos as the means and locus of constructing sustainability, demonstrating our approach through original examples from our own research. Third, we discuss the implications of our arguments for practising managers and offer suggestions for further research
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-258
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Complexity in Leadership and Management
Issue number4
Early online date25 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2014


  • complexity theory
  • systems thinking
  • identity
  • Sustainability

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