Governmentality Matters: Designing an Alliance Culture of Inter-organizational Collaboration for Managing Projects

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Organization Studies, 2002, 23 (3), pp. 317 - 337
Issue Date:
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The concept of governmentality was developed by Michel Foucault to address the specificity of contemporary neo-liberal forms of governance - premised on the active consent and subjugation of subjects, rather than their oppression, domination or external control. These neo-liberal forms of governance are evident in new forms of alliance contracting in the construction industry. We review the major innovations in organization form in the sector, before considering the specific management practices of surveillance and control that are typically associated with governance in these projects. Project management has been a historically evolving field. This paper reports on an example of governmentality applied to the practice of project management. While governmentality refers to the design of project governance as an activity, the management of projects as a mode of organization, irrespective of the mode of governance, is highly complex and uncertain. These themes have already been widely addressed in organization theory. Here, we draw on recent treatments of them that combine transaction costs and resource dependence perspectives. Moreover, we argue that projects also display an acute sense of temporality, as Schutzian-influenced approaches have explored. In the context of governmentality, complexity, uncertainty and temporality are addressed in a specific and highly innovative project management. The research methods used in the ethnography are spelt out, as well as the methods used in constructing the interpretation of the case. Economies in authoritative surveillance have been sought through building collaborative commitment and transparency into the moral fibre of a project. The governmental tools used to do this are a strong project culture, monetized key performance indicators, and a stakeholder conception of the project to bind different organizational stakeholders together. The case does not record an unqualifiedly successful project: the governmentality that was constructed had limits, as the case spells out. The failure indicates some issues that the stakeholder theory of the firm will need to address. We conclude that governmentality projects premised on stakeholder conceptions are particularly susceptible to discrepancies between ambition and outcome. In such a context, the constant injunction to improve may itself be an integral part of the governmental method. Hence, governmentality is particularly appropriate for understanding quality management issues.
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