Defining relational contracting from the Wittgenstein family-resemblance philosophy

John F Y YEUNG*, Albert P.C. Chan, Daniel W.M. Chan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)


There has been an increasing interest in the concept of relational contracting (RC) in construction starting from the late 1990s. RC embraces and underpins different forms of collaborative approaches, including partnering, alliancing, joint venture and other collaborative working arrangements and better risk sharing mechanisms. By applying Nyström's and Yeung et al.'s similar approaches to define construction partnering and construction alliancing respectively, this paper focuses on RC and family-resemblance. A significant contribution to new knowledge is believed to have been made in providing a concise and comprehensive approach in defining the similar and yet different key components of RC by using a Sunflower Model. The development of this innovative Model is based on the German philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein's family-resemblance philosophy. His idea is that a complex concept can be understood as a network of overlapping similarities. Based on the reported literature, it is concluded that there are always five core elements included in construction RC. They are "commitment", "trust", "cooperation and communication", "common goals and objective", and "win-win philosophy". In addition to these core elements, a number of different non-core elements, or called petals, can be added to constitute a specific variant of RC in construction. The contribution can be of paramount importance to both the research community and the construction industry. By using this innovative theoretical framework to define construction RC, industrial practitioners may find the Sunflower Model useful in the procurement of a construction RC project. The Sunflower Model can be applied to explain the underlying concepts and as a common starting point for discussions between a client and a contractor on how to procure a RC project, thus avoiding any misinterpretations of what a RC project is.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-239
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Project Management
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation

User-Defined Keywords

  • Family-resemblance
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein
  • Relational contracting
  • Sunflower Model


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