Teargas, taboo and transformation: A neo-institutional study of community resistance and the struggle to legitimize subway projects in Amsterdam 1960–2018

Leonore van den Ende, Alfons van Marrewijk*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The last decades have witnessed an increasing prevalence of community resistance against large-scale infrastructure projects that pose serious threats to their environment, calling for further empirical scrutiny. Hence, this paper applies a neo-institutional lens to investigate how project actors who plan and implement large-scale infrastructure projects respond to community resistance in their attempt to legitimize and embed these projects in their environment. To do so, we draw from a longitudinal study of two subway projects in Amsterdam; the East line (1965–1980) and the North-South line (1995-2018). While considered crucial for urban development, both projects encountered severe community resistance by locals protecting the historic city. This resistance, in turn, prompted ‘institutional work’ by project actors to socially (re)construct the projects in pursuit of legitimacy from the Amsterdam community. The twofold contribution of the paper to the field of project studies is (1) the application of a neo-institutional lens showcasing the dynamic interrelation between projects and their environment, processes of institutional transformation, and practices of institutional work; and (2) the longitudinal empirical account exhibiting the contextual dialectic of resistance and accommodation with an emphasis on shifting approaches of institutionalization, the constant struggle to acquire legitimacy, and the local embeddedness of projects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-346
Number of pages16
JournalInternational journal of project management
Issue number2
Early online date18 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


Bibliographical note

Part of special issue: Projects, Organizations and Institutions. Edited by Jonas Söderlund, Jörg Sydow


  • Community resistance
  • Infrastructure project
  • Legitimacy
  • Local embeddedness
  • Neo-institutional lens

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