Institutional work and infrastructure public–private partnerships (PPPs): the roles of religious symbolic work and power in implementing PPP projects

Mhamed Biygautane, Stewart Clegg, Khalid Al-Yahya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: Existing public–private partnership (PPP) literature that explicitly adopts neo-institutional theory, tends to elucidate the impact of isomorphic pressures and organizational fields and structuration on PPP projects. This paper advances this literature by presenting the institutional work and micro-level dynamics through which actors initiate and implement a new form of project delivery. The authors show how actors enact responses to institutional structuration in the expansion and transformation of an airport from a public entity into a PPP in Saudi Arabia. Design/methodology/approach: The authors use a single case study design that offers an empirically rich and thick description of events such as the dynamic processes, practices and types of institutional work carried out by actors and organizations to deliver the project under investigation. Findings: Religious symbolic work as social integration triggered system integration work, which expanded the power capabilities of individual actors leading the project. Repair work then followed to alleviate the negative effects of disempowering the agency of actors negatively affected by the PPP model and to streamline the project implementation process. Practical implications: This research offers several practical implications. For PPPs to operate successfully in contexts similar to the Gulf region, policymakers should provide strong political support and be willing to bear a considerable risk of losses or minimal outcomes during the early phases of experimentation with PPPs. Also, policymakers should not only focus their attention on technical requirements of PPPs but also associate new meanings with the normative and cultural-cognitive elements that are integral to the success of PPP implementation. In order to design strategies for change that are designed to fit the unique cultural and sociopolitical settings of each country, policymakers should empower capable individual actors and provide them with resources and access to power, which will enable them to enforce changes that diverge from institutionalized practices. Social implications: This research connected the PPP literature with theoretical frameworks drawn from neo-institutional theory and power. It would be valuable for further research, however, to connect ideas from the PPP literature with other disciplines such as psychology and social entrepreneurship. PPP research examines a recent phenomenon that can potentially be combined with non-traditional streams of research in analyzing projects. Expanding the realm of PPP research beyond traditional theoretical boundaries could potentially yield exciting insights into how the overall institutional and psychological environments surrounding projects affect their initiation and implementation. Originality/value: The paper contributes new insights regarding the roles of religious symbolic work, allied with social and system integration of power relations in implementing PPP projects. It suggests a theoretical shift from structures and organizational fields – macro- and meso-levels of analysis – to individuals – micro-level – as triggers of new forms of project delivery that break with the status quo.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1077-1112
JournalAccounting, Auditing And Accountability Journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2020


  • Institutional work
  • Neo-institutional theory
  • Organizational power
  • Public–private partnership


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