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

Stewart R. Clegg*, Tyrone S. Pitsis, Thekla Rura-Polley, Marton Marosszeky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-337
Number of pages21
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank members of our research team including Peter Booth, Emma Bowyer, Bill Johnstone, and Jim Scott. Our thanks are also extended to John Crawford for his valuable assistance, and Jenny Onyx, another member of our ORCA (Organizational Researchers on Collaboration and Alliances) Research Group — the home of the research project reported in this paper. In addition, we gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Australian Research Council via the ARC Large Grant (a79920021) and ARC Small Grants Scheme. Most of all, we would like to thank members of the organizations that participated in this study. Their openness, and honesty during interviews and fieldwork proved to be the source of a rich and detailed data set. Finally, we would like to thank Georges Romme and two anonymous reviewers from Organization Studies for their suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper. *


  • Construction industry
  • Designer culture
  • Foucault
  • Governmentality
  • Power
  • Projects

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