Project studies: What it is, where it is going

Joana Geraldi*, Jonas Söderlund

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Project organising is a growing field of scholarly inquiry and management practice. In recent years, two important developments have influenced this field: (1) the study and practice of projects have extended their level of analysis from mainly focussing on individual projects to focussing on micro- as well as macro-level concerns around projects; and (2) there has been a greater interest in different kinds of scholarly inquiry. Taken together, these two developments call for closer scrutiny of how the levels of analysis and the types of inquiry are related and benefit each other, and of the explanations of project practices they could offer. To discuss avenues for future research on projects and project practice, this paper suggests the notion of project studies to better grasp the status of our field. We combine these two sets of ideas to analyse the status and future options for advancing project research: (1) levels of analysis; and (2) type of research. Analysing recent developments within project studies, we observe the emergence of what we refer to as type 3 research, which reconciles the need for theoretical development and engagement with practice. Type 3 research suggests pragmatic avenues to move away from accepted yet unhelpful assumptions about projects and project organising. The paper ends with an agenda for future research, which offers project scholars a variety of options to position themselves in the field of project studies, and to explore opportunities in the crossroads between levels of analysis and types of research. Executive summary: Rapid diversification of scholarly inquiry and management practice in projects may segregate the project research, but could also constitute an opportunity to strengthening it. For example, the diversity of 'organisations' or forms of 'organising' filled the field of organisation studies with new ideas and intellectual challenges. To take advantage of such developments, organisational scholars had to consider different forms of organising as part of 'organisation studies', and continuously adapt their frames of reference and forms of conceptualising organisations as a 'research field' and a 'research object'. Concomitantly, they embraced alternative research interests, ontologies and epistemologies, which today enrich the field. Such dynamics build on scholarly reflexivity and could also, we believe, be fostered in project research.Thus, responding to the diversification of the field, and inspired by the notion of 'organisation studies', we present the case of 'project studies', which acts as an umbrella for the studies in, on and around projects. 'Project studies' is novel as it does not propose an alternative perspective on projects, but instead calls for an inclusive and integrative research field for all perspectives, fostering vibrant dialogue and debate that welcomes different opinions and perspectives.The aim of the present paper is to demonstrate the value of the notion of project studies and to call for reflexive scholars capable of navigating diversity by positioning their research in contrast with that of others. In particular, we focus on two recent developments that have contributed to the diversification of the field and offered new options for project scholars:. (1) the study and practice of projects have extended their level of analysis from mainly focussing on individual projects to focussing on micro- as well as macro-level concerns around projects; and. (2) there has been a greater interest in different kinds of scholarly inquiry.We examined the different types of inquiries through the lenses of the three deep-seeded human interests proposed by Habermas: a) The traditional positivist tradition has its main interest on 'solving the problems' of project organising and increase its efficiency and effectiveness through better understanding of causal relationships surrounding projects. b) Interpretative research is grounded on our inherent interest to understand the world around us, but not necessarily 'solve' it. Rather, this research explores perceptions, behaviours and sees the world not so much in terms of causal-links, but complex networks with interesting cases and possibilities for learning. c) Emancipatory research is driven by emancipatory interest and the pragmatic desire for changes in the status quo through the reorganisation of inherent contradictions, giving voice to minorities while addressing major economic and social problems. We termed them type 1, type 2 and type 3, respectively.The juxtaposition of levels of analysis and types of research offers a matrix with nine areas to identify opportunities and to position research contributions a in the field of project studies, extending current treatments of problems and topics to different levels of analysis and types of research. In particular, we would also welcome the strengthening of type 3 research across the three primary levels of analysis addressed in the present paper.This paper provides a framework to encourage project scholars to reflect and become even more aware of nature and conduct of their research: the kinds of knowledge and interests they pursue, as well as the focus of their research. Our framework and analysis are exploratory and only build a tentative foundation for further exploration. We hope the present paper will trigger reflexivity on the making of project studies. In this spirit, we welcome further development as well as criticism to our main ideas.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Project Management
Volume36
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)55-70
ISSN0263-7863
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Keywords

  • Levels of analysis
  • Project management
  • Project organising
  • Project studies
  • Research
  • Scholarship
  • Sociology of science

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