Tunnel vision? Brunel's Thames Tunnel and project narratives

Nicholas Marshall, Mike Bresnen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Looking at historical projects has much to offer our understanding of project management, for both research and practice. However, there are important challenges in how alternative narratives about such projects are reconstructed and related to each other. To explore these challenges, this paper uses the example of the Thames Tunnel project, completed under the direction of Marc Brunel in 1843, and reputed to be the first tunnel to be built under a major river. In telling the story of the project, we focus on five alternative discourses: technico-rational; practice; networks of people, things, and ideas; politics; and society. The common response to such variety is either to attempt to construct an overarching meta-narrative, or to explore the differences as a way of highlighting the localized and contingent nature of knowledge about projects, or adopt some intermediate position somewhere on the spectrum between these two extremes. Instead we seek a different route grounded in a sociology of knowledge that acknowledges simultaneous, provisional, and contested processes of division and stabilization in the ways that epistemic communities constitute knowledge through their own narratives and practices. These have implications for the stories that are told about project management and, crucially, the activities and interests that both shape and are shaped by such narratives.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Project Management
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2013

Bibliographical note

© 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Project histories
  • Narratives
  • Technology
  • Practice
  • Sociology of knowledge


Dive into the research topics of 'Tunnel vision? Brunel's Thames Tunnel and project narratives'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this