The recursive interaction of institutional fields and managerial legitimation in large-scale projects

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Heeding recent calls for more studies on the relationship between projects and institutions, this paper reports on a collaborative case study to shed light on the recursive relations of large-scale projects and their institutional fields. Given the industry as the field-level institution, this study explores how two project organizations experienced the industry changes, its influence on the arrangement of large-scale projects, and the management response used to legitimize these arrangements. The qualitative secondary data analysis of two High-Speed rail projects in Spain and The Netherlands is based on semi-structured interviews, observations, and document analysis. This paper provides the institutional fields’ contextual detail and deepens our understanding of temporal institutional complexity that bound large-scale project arrangements. The findings suggest that in both cases the management responses altered across time and evolved depending on the salience of the institutional pressure, through the interplay with 1) regulative, 2) normative, and 3) dynamic cultural-cognitive forces, resulting in cycles of project legitimacy.