Multi-Firm Temporary Networks: A Study of Process

Donncha Kavanagh, 1998

This thesis investigates change and ordering processes in organisational settings. It focuses on the particular setting of multi-firm, temporary networks (MFTNs), because change is especially endemic in this context, and because such networks have received scant study in the literature. MFTNs - which are unique, transitory constellations of corporations organised around a significant task - are a defining feature of project environments, typified by the construction, filmmaking and software development sectors, but they are also characteristic of ""post-Fordist"" forms of organising. The dominant theoretical frames in the management and marketing literatures seem ill suited to understanding their dynamics, largely because they rely on organic metaphors which tend to emphasise stability over change. For this reason, actor-network theory, which stresses process over stability, was used as a primary conceptual frame. Variants of the ethnographic method were used to study and describe three multi-firm, temporary networks in the pharmaceutical/software development, film, and fertiliser industries.

Network change is depicted as centring on five moments of change. Problematisation is a multi-vocal, sense-making activity that constructs, both retrospectively and prospectively, competing and alternative narratives. Transcendence describes how local practices are related to more global phenomena through (a) the operation of recognisable objects, termed boundary objects, that act as portals between 'global' and 'local' networks, and (b) replicating assemblages which are actor-networks that fabricate a sense of the global through producing a set of self-similar entities. The third moment of interessement describes how protected spaces are created and maintained in networks to enable identity creation, calculation, and play, and to counter opportunistic behaviour. Punctualisation is the fourth moment. This describes how all entities, including firms and projects, are fabricated through the incessant and inventive connection of disparate events and actors across time and space, and through the subsequent abbreviation or blackboxing of these connections into 'centres'. The case studies show that the greater the degree of prior punctualisation (or the more robust the black boxes) the greater the need for a ""projectised"" approach if change is to be effected. The fifth moment misrepresentation, which is central to network dynamics, arises through three distinct processes: conversion, chelation and composition.