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


Appel, H. 2019. ‘To critique or not to critique? That is (perhaps not) the question’. Journal of Business Anthropology 8 (1): 29-34.

Badger, S. 2014. ‘Editorial: Exploring mutuality’. The Brewery 1: 2-3.

Bauman, R. and Briggs, C. L. 1990. ‘Poetics and performance as critical perspectives on language and social life’. Annual Review of Anthropology, 19: 59-88.

Cadbury, D. 2011. Chocolate wars: The 150-year rivalry between the world's greatest chocolate makers. NY: Public Affairs.

Cassidy, R. 2016. ‘How corporations shape our understanding of problems with gambling and their solutions’. In N. Kenworthy, R. MacKenzie and K. Lee (eds.) Case studies on corporations and global health governance impacts, influence and accountability, pp. 89-102. Rowman and Littlefield.

Crane, A., Palazzo, G., Spence, L. J. and Matten, D. 2014. ‘Contesting the value of “creating shared value”’. California Management Review, 56(2): 130-149.

Cross, J. 2011. ‘Detachment as a corporate ethic: Materializing CSR in the diamond supply chain. Focaal 60: 34-46.

Dolan, C. and Roll, K. 2013. ‘Capital’s new frontier: from “unusable” economies to bottom-of-the-pyramid markets in Africa’. African Studies Review, 56: 123-146.

Dolan, C. and Rajak, D. 2016. The anthropology of corporate social responsibility. Oxford: Berghahn.

Dolan, C., Huang, J. and C. Gordon. 2019. ‘The ambiguity of mutuality: discourse and power in corporate value regimes’. Dialectical Anthropology,

Fearn, H. 2014. Mars tries to share benefits of business without parting with profits. Guardian Sustainable Business. Available at: (Accessed 21 March 2017)

Fortun, K. 2014. From Latour to late industrialism. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 4 (1): 309-329.

Gallenga, G. 2016. ‘The anthropology of business ethics: worth thinking about!’ Journal of Business Anthropology, S3: 7-19.

Gardner, K. 2015. ‘Chevron’s gift of CSR: moral economies of connection and disconnection in a transnational Bangladeshi village’. Economy and Society, 44(4): 495-518.

Gilbert, P. R. 2015. ‘Trouble in para-sites: deference and influence in the ethnography of epistemic elites’. Anthropology in Action, 22(3): 52-62.

Gilbert, P.R. and Sklair, J. 2018, eds. ‘Ethnographic engagements with global elites: mutuality, complicity and critique.’ Focaal – Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, No. 81: Theme Section.

Gudeman, S. 2009. ‘Necessity or contingency: mutuality and market’. In C. Hann and K. Hart (eds.) Market and society: the great transformation, pp. 17-37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gudeman, S. 2016. Anthropology and economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ho, K. 2009. Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Jackson, T. 2009. Prosperity without growth: economics for a finite planet. Abingdon: Routledge.

Jakub, J. and Roche, B. 2014. The economics of mutuality. The Brewery, 01.2014: 18-19.

Keane, W. 2008. ‘Market, materiality and moral metalanguage’. Anthropological Theory, 8 (1): 27-42.

Keane, W. 2010. ‘Minds, surfaces and reasons in the anthropology of ethics’. In M. Lambek (ed.) Ordinary ethics: anthropology, language, and action, pp. 64-83. New York: Fordham University Press.

Kirsch, S. 2010. ‘Sustainable mining.’ Dialectical Anthropology, 34 (1): 87-93.

Kuipers, Joel. 1990. Power in performance: the creation of textual authority in Weyewa Ritual Speech. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Leadbetter, C. and Christie, I. 1999. To our mutual advantage. London: DEMOS.

Levi, Y. 2006. ‘From the “double nature” of cooperation to the social economy: fifty years of Associationism’. International Review of Sociology, 16(1): 149-163.

Martin, J. 2002. Organizational culture: mapping the terrain. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Mayo, E. and Moore, H. 2001. A mutual state: how local communities can run public services. London: New Economics Foundation.

Mayer, C. 2014. Mutuality and morality in business. The Brewery, 01.2014: 7-9.

Mayer, C. 2015. The meaning of fair return and mutuality in business. Unpublished MS, Said Business School, University of Oxford, 4 June 2015.

McDermott Hughes, D. 2017. Energy without conscience: oil, climate change, and complicity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Michaels, P. 2014. The Mars mutuality journey. The Brewery, 01.2014: 14-16.

Miller, D. 2005. ‘What is best “value”? Bureaucracy, virtualism, and local governance’. In P. Du Gay (ed.) The values of bureaucracy, pp. 233-256. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Miller, D. 2008. ‘The uses of value’. Geoforum, 39: 1122-1132.

Muniesa, F., Doganova, L., Ortiz, H., Pina-Stranger, Á., Paterson, F., Bourgoin, A., Ehrenstein A., Juven, P.-A., Pontille, D., Saraç-Lesavre, B. and Yon, G. 2017. Capitalization: a cultural guide. Parois: Presses des Mines.

Næss, Petter. 2006. Unsustainable growth, unsustainable capitalism, Journal of Critical Realism, 5(2): 197-227.

Ortiz, Horacio. 2013. ‘Financial value: economic, moral, political, global’. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 3 (1): 64-79.

Park, Joseph Sung-Yul and Bucholtz, Mary. 2009. ‘Introduction: Public transcripts: entextualization and linguistic representation in institutional contexts’. Text & Talk, 29 (5): 485-502.

Peluso, D. 2017. ‘The ethnography of versus for question in an anthropology of/for business.’ Journal of Business Anthropology 6 (1): 8-23.

Pina-Cabral, J. 2013. The two faces of mutuality: contemporary themes in anthropology. Anthropological Quarterly, 86(1): 257-275.

Porée, L. 2016. ‘Business ethics as ethical self-promotion? How advertising executives promote their activity’. Journal of Business Anthropology, S3: 54-64.

Power, M. 2005. ‘Organizational responses to risk: the rise of the chief risk officer’. In M. Power and B. Hutter (eds.) Organizational encounters with risk, pp. 132-148. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rajak, D. 2008. ‘“Uplift and empower”: the market, morality and corporate responsibility on South Africa’s platinum belt’. Research in Economic Anthropology, 28: 297-324.

Rajak, D. 2014. ‘Corporate memory: historical revisionism, legitimation and the invention of tradition in a multinational mining company’. Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 37(2): 259-280.

Rangan, S. 2018. ‘Introduction: Capitalism beyond mutuality?’ In S. Rangan (ed.) Capitalism beyond mutuality?, pp.1-24. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Røyrvik, E. A. 2013. ‘Incarnation Inc. Managing Corporate Values’. Journal of Business Anthropology, 2(1): 9-32.

Salverda, T. 2019. ‘Conflicting interpretations: On analyzing an agribusiness’ concerns about critique’. Journal of Business Anthropology, 8 (1): 4-24.

Sampson, S. 2016. ‘The “right way”: moral capitalism and the emergence of the corporate ethics and compliance officer’. Journal of Business Anthropology S3: 65-86.

Sanjek, R. 2014. Mutuality: anthropology’s changing terms of engagement. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Schein, Edgar H. 2004. Organizational Culture & Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sullivan, S. 2014. The natural capital myth: or will accounting save the world? Manchester: Leverhulme Centre for the Study of Value.

Urciuoli, Bonnie. 2000. Strategically deployable shifters in college marketing, or just what do they mean by ‘skills’ and ‘leadership’ and ‘multiculturalism’?

Urciuoli, B. 2010. ‘Entextualizing diversity: semiotic incoherence in institutional discourse’. Language & Communication, 30(1): 48-57.

Vernon, R. 1994. ‘Contributing to an international business curriculum: an approach from the flank’. International Business Studies: 25 (2): 215-227.

Ward, J.D., Sutton, P.C., Werner, A.D., Costanza, R., Mohr, S.H. and Simmons, C.T. (2016) ‘Is decoupling GDP growth from environmental impact possible?’ PLOS one, October 14, 2016.

Welker, M. and Wood. D. 2011. ‘Shareholder activism and alienation’. Cultural Anthropology, 52: S57-S69

Williams, S. 2011. ‘Engaging values in international business practice’. Business Horizons, 54: 315-324.

Wright, S. 1994. ‘“Culture” in anthropology and organizational studies’. In S. Wright (ed.) Anthropology of Organizations, pp. 1-31. Abingdon: Routledge.

Yarrow, T., Candea, M., Trundle, C. and Cook, J. 2015. Detachment: essays on the limits of relational thinking. Manchester: Manchester University Press.