How actor‐network theories can help in understanding project complexities

Daniel Sage (Department of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)
Andrew Dainty (Department of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)
Naomi Brookes (Department of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Publication date: 5 April 2011

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to question why current thinking towards project complexity ignores the role of objects in achieving social order and transformation. An alternative, but complementary, approach to address project complexities, drawing upon actor‐network theory (ANT), is offered to redress this concern.

Design/methodology/approach

Current thinking towards project complexity is briefly reviewed in the first section to illustrate the reasons why nonhumans are downplayed. An historical case study, the Skye road bridge project, is mobilized to explain, and develop, an ANT perspective on project complexities, and responses to such complexities.

Findings

ANT develops accounts of project complexity by highlighting the role of nonhumans in influencing how practitioners register, respond and stabilize project complexities. Front‐end planning and stakeholder analysis is shown to be only one narrow element of four moments through which actors apprehend and stabilize project complexities.

Research limitations/implications

The empirical case study is developed to suggest some significant ways in which ANT could contribute, and complement, extant theories of project complexity. Alternative approaches to socio‐materiality are noted and may yield other important insights.

Originality/value

The paper positions ANT to offer a novel theory of project complexity. It is intended to be primarily of use to project management researchers, and theoretically informed practitioners, who are interested in developing fresh insights into notions of project complexities (unintended consequences, emergence and unpredictability).

Keywords

Citation

Sage, D., Dainty, A. and Brookes, N. (2011), "How actor‐network theories can help in understanding project complexities", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 4 No. 2, pp. 274-293. https://doi.org/10.1108/17538371111120243

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Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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