An ethnographic study of institutional work in a creative proto-institutional place

  • Devon Gidley

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Institutions permeate all aspects of society and organizational life. While much research has examined established institutions, less is known about how protoinstitutions - potential institutions not yet entrenched - are formed. Institutional work, which explains how social actors try to influence institutions, offers one possible theoretical lens. I systematically reviewed the existing literature from a semantic and thematic perspective. Entering the field, data was gathered over a year-long ethnography of an interorganisational proto-institutional place in the video game industry. The methods used included over 800 hours of participant observation, 58 formal and informal interviews, and artefact analysis. I examined the institutional work by creative actors within the different spaces. Diving deeper into one space, I focused on the accelerator. Working from multidimensional scales, I show how developers utilized different processes in the making of video game prototypes in order to satisfy the institutional demands of the accelerator.

The thesis comprises seven main chapters and two articles in the appendix. Chapter one introduces the idea of institutions and creativity as in opposition. Institutional work and the UK digital games industry are introduced. Chapter two lays out the ethnographic methodology and provides a day in the life vignette. Chapter three is a systematic literature review of institutional work and a resulting framework. Chapter four explores the spaces of a place and how institutional work shapes a creative proto-institutional place. Chapter five unpacking the micro-processes within a business and technological accelerator across multidimensional scales. Chapter six discusses the thesis contributions in the context of two frameworks. Chapter seven concludes the thesis by reflecting on the research and PhD process. Appendix A presents an alternative method to study institutions. Appendix B considers the impact of participation in an accelerator over various spatial-temporal scales.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorMark Palmer (Supervisor) & Mike Crone (Supervisor)


  • Institutional theory
  • creativity
  • innovation
  • video games
  • ethnography
  • institutional work
  • prototyping
  • scales
  • spaces
  • creative industries
  • case study
  • incubator
  • accelerator
  • coworking spaces
  • experimental spaces
  • SMEs
  • Leximancer

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