Actor-network theory and the evolution of complex adaptive supply networks

Zelinna Pablo (Office of the Pro Vice Chancellor Research, Torrens University Australia, Sydney, Australia)
Kerry London (Office of the Pro Vice Chancellor Research, Torrens University Australia, Sydney, Australia)
Peter S.P. Wong (School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
Malik Khalfan (School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)

Construction Innovation

ISSN: 1471-4175

Publication date: 26 January 2021

Abstract

Purpose

Current understandings of innovation in construction portray it as linear, deterministic phenomena centered around novel objects and technologies deployed in sequentially-organized supply chains. This study aims to develop an enriched understanding of construction innovation as non-linear, socio-material and dynamic phenomena in complex networks by formulating a novel conceptual apparatus of complex adaptive supply networks (CASNs) expanded through actor-network theory (ANT) concepts.

Design/methodology/approach

This combined CASN/ANT apparatus is mobilized in the context of a qualitative case study involving a housing construction supply network in Australia making use of offsite manufacturing (OSM) techniques.

Findings

The study shows that innovative technologies such as novel OSM products can play an important though not necessarily deterministic role in the evolution of CASNs. The study also explicates the process by which the enrollment of non-human agents and the resulting CASN evolution are linked: innovative technologies shape human and non-human interactions in ways that redefine task delegation, role definition and schemas that are fundamental to the shape of CASNs.

Originality/value

Findings provide a compelling empirical basis for arguing that CASNs must be conceptualized as heterogeneous systems and that innovation in construction must be understood as non-linear, socio-material and dynamic, rather than linear and driven by technological determinism. The study also interrogates limiting notions of supply chains and supports the notion of alternative inter-organizational forms to understand construction project work.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the Australian Research Council [DP 180101178].

Citation

Pablo, Z., London, K., Wong, P.S.P. and Khalfan, M. (2021), "Actor-network theory and the evolution of complex adaptive supply networks", Construction Innovation, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/CI-05-2019-0042

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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