Mutuality Talk in a Family-Owned Multinational

Anthropological Categories & Critical Analyses of Corporate Ethicizing


  • Paul Robert Gilbert University of Sussex
  • Catherine Dolan University of London



This article draws on work carried out as part of a collaboration between an elite business school and a family-owned multinational corporation, concerned with promoting ‘mutuality in business’ as a new frontier of responsible capitalism. While the business school partners treated mutuality as a new principle central to an emergent ethical capitalism, the corporation claimed mutuality as a long-established value unique to their company. Both interpretations foreground a central problem in recent writing on the anthropology of business/corporations: the tension between the claim that economic life is always embedded within a moral calculus, and the shift towards increasingly ethical behaviour among many corporations. Further, recent work in the anthropology of business rejects normative evaluations of corporate ethicizing. When corporations lay claim to ethical renewal, but maintain a commitment to competition and growth, then anthropologists must balance a sympathetic engagement with corporate ethicizing, and critical engagement with growth-based strategies.

Author Biographies

Paul Robert Gilbert, University of Sussex

Paul Robert Gilbert is a Lecturer in International Development in the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex. His current research projects concern sustainable development and environmental defenders in Bangladesh, and the outsourcing of international development to private-sector consultants. He can be reached at

Catherine Dolan, University of London

Catherine Dolan is a Reader in Anthropology at SOAS, University of London, and holds fellowships at the James Martin Institute, Green Templeton College, and Said Business School, all at the University of Oxford, and at the Royal Society of Arts. She is co-editor of The anthropology of corporate social responsibility (Berghahn, 2016) and Digital food activism (Routledge, 2018). She can be reached at


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