The ambiguity of mutuality: Discourse and power in corporate value regimes

Catherine Dolan, Julia Huang, Claire Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Corporate values offer a means for consecrating alternative regimes of worth within businesses, explicitly orienting firms around more than the pursuit of profits. This paper examines how corporate values come to be constructed and diffused as a framework for interpretation and action through analysis of Food Co.’s flagship principle: ‘mutuality’. Tracing the deployment of mutuality through Food Co.’s internal processes (within the embodied practice and narratives of employees) and external relationships (within Food Co.’s bottom of the pyramid project in Kenya), the paper illustrates how the ambiguity of mutuality forms a strategic resource for the company by (i) sheltering multiple meanings and interpretations, thus enabling resonance among different situations and subject positions; (ii) allowing for syncretism between seemingly opposing and categorically different forms; and (iii) generating a space for negotiation and dealing with uncertainty. Employing these three themes of ambiguity as an organizing frame for our discussion, we highlight how the ambiguity of corporate values absorbs the contradictions emblematic of the ‘heterarchical firm’ (Stark 2000), while obscuring the obligations and expectations the concept entails as it moves beyond Food Co. to outsourced ‘entrepreneurs’ in Kenya. Language generates the appearance of equivalence and benevolence while seeking new spaces for accumulation and legitimizing the incorporation of labor on precarious terms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-27
Number of pages19
JournalDialectical Anthropology
Issue number1
Early online date24 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • corporate social responsibility
  • corporate values
  • ambiguity
  • valuation
  • bottom of the pyramid
  • morals

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