The Anthropology of Corporate Social Responsibility

by Catherine Dolan, Dinah Rajak (eds.)

The Anthropology of Corporate Social Responsibility The Anthropology of Corporate Social Responsibility explores the meanings practices and impact of corporate social and environmental responsibility across a range of transnational corporations and geographical locations Bangladesh Cameroon Chile the Democratic Republic of the Congo Ghana India Peru South Africa the UK and the USA The contributors examine the expectations frictions and contradictions the CSR movement is generating and addressing key issues such as the introduction

Publisher : Berghahn Books

Author : Catherine Dolan, Dinah Rajak (eds.)

ISBN : 9781785330711

Year : 2016

Language: en

File Size : 2.29 MB

Category : Used Textbooks

The Anthropology of Corporate Social Responsibility


General Editors: August Carbonella, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Don
Kalb, University of Utrecht & Central European University, Linda Green, University
of Arizona
The immense dislocations and suffering caused by neoliberal globalization, the
retreat of the welfare state in the last decades of the twentieth century, and the
heightened military imperialism at the turn of the twenty-first century have
raised urgent questions about the temporal and spatial dimensions of power.
Through stimulating critical perspectives and new and cross-disciplinary
frameworks that reflect recent innovations in the social and human sciences, this
series provides a forum for politically engaged and theoretically imaginative
responses to these important issues of late modernity.
Volume 1
Where Have All the Homeless Gone? The Making
and Unmaking of a Crisis
Anthony Marcus

Volume 10
Communities of Complicity: Everyday Ethics in
Rural China
Hans Steinmüller

Volume 2
Blood and Oranges: European Markets and
Immigrant Labor in Rural Greece
Christopher M. Lawrence

Volume 11
Elusive Promises: Planning in the Contemporary
Edited by Simone Abram and Gisa Weszkalnys

Volume 3
Struggles for Home: Violence, Hope and the
Movement of People
Edited by Stef Jansen and Staffan Löfving

Volume 12
Intellectuals and (Counter-) Politics: Essays in
Historical Realism
Gavin Smith

Volume 4
Slipping Away: Banana Politics and Fair Trade in the
Eastern Caribbean
Mark Moberg

Volume 13
In Blood and Fire: Toward a Global Anthropology of
Edited by Sharryn Kasmir and August

Volume 5
Made in Sheffield: An Ethnography of Industrial
Work and Politics
Massimiliano Mollona
Volume 6
Biopolitics, Militarism, and Development: Eritrea in
the Twenty-First Century
Edited by David O’Kane and Tricia Redeker
Volume 7
When Women Held the Dragon’s Tongue and Other
Essays in Historical Anthropology
Hermann Rebel
Volume 8
Class, Contention, and a World in Motion
Edited by Winnie Lem and Pauline Gardiner
Volume 9
Crude Domination: An Anthropology of Oil
Edited by Andrea Behrends, Stephen P. Reyna,
and Günther Schlee

Volume 14
The Neoliberal Landscape and the Rise of Islamist
Capital in Turkey
Edited by Neşecan Balkan, Erol Balkan, and
Ahmet Öncü
Volume 15
Yearnings in the Meantime: ‘Normal Lives’ and the
State in a Sarajevo Apartment Complex
Stef Jansen
Volume 16
Where Are All Our Sheep? Kyrgyzstan, a Global
Political Arena
Boris Petric, Translated by Cynthia Schoch
Volume 17
Enduring Uncertainty: Deportation, Punishment and
Everyday Life
Ines Hasselberg
Volume 18
The Anthropology of Corporate Social Responsibility
Edited by Catherine Dolan and Dinah Rajak

The Anthropology of
Corporate Social


Edited by Catherine Dolan & Dinah Rajak


First published in 2016 by
Berghahn Books
© 2016 Catherine Dolan & Dinah Rajak
All rights reserved.
Except for the quotation of short passages
for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this book
may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or
mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information
storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented,
without written permission of the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A C.I.P. cataloging record is available from the Library of Congress.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 978-1-78533-071-1 (hardback)
ISBN 978-1-78533-072-8 (ebook)


List of Illustrations




Introduction Toward the anthropology of corporate social
Catherine Dolan and Dinah Rajak
Chapter One Theatres of virtue: Collaboration, consensus, and
the social life of corporate social responsibility
Dinah Rajak
Chapter Two

Virtuous language in industry and the academy
Stuart Kirsch

Chapter Three Re-siting corporate responsibility: The making of
South Africa’s Avon entrepreneurs
Catherine Dolan and Mary Johnstone-Louis
Chapter Four Power, inequality, and corporate social
responsibility: The politics of ethical compliance
in the South Indian garment industry
Geert De Neve
Chapter Five Detachment as a corporate ethic: Materializing
CSR in the diamond supply chain
Jamie Cross
Chapter Six Disconnect development: Imagining partnership
and experiencing detachment in Chevron’s
Katy Gardner








vi   |   Contents

Chapter Seven Subcontracting as corporate social responsibility
in the Chad-Cameroon pipeline project
José-María Muñoz and Philip Burnham


Chapter Eight Collective contradictions of “corporate”
environmental conservation
Rebecca Hardin


Chapter Nine Engineering responsibility: Environmental
mitigation and the limits of commensuration in a
Chilean mining project
Fabiana Li
Chapter Ten Global concepts in local contexts: CSR as
“anti-politics machine” in the extractive sector in
Ghana and Peru
Johanna Sydow



Afterword Big men and business. Morality, debt, and the
corporation: A perspective
Robert J. Foster





Table 4.1. Generic ethical code of conduct
Figure 8.1. Image on homepage of French Forest Products
Group, Rougier, with slogan “Manage the forest,
give life to the wood”



Figure 10.1. Sign within the Newmont concession: “Yanacocha
cares for the environment” 

– vii –


First and foremost we would like to thank the authors of the book’s
chapters for their compelling and thought-provoking contributions,
which build on complimentary themes while drawing from diverse
cases to address key questions concerning the discourse and practice
of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in contemporary capitalism.
This volume joins an innovative collection of books in Berghahn’s
Dislocations series, edited by Don Kalb, which critically confronts
contradictions, inequalities and frictions in the new millennium. We
are very grateful to Don for his advice and support in the evolution
of this volume.
At Berghahn, we wish to thank Molly Mosher, Adam Capitanio,
Dhara Patel, Charlotte Mosedale and Sarah Sibley for their enthusiastic
support and expert guidance in the development of this manuscript.
We are also most grateful to the three anonymous reviewers for
Berghahn for their particularly insightful and detailed comments on
the manuscript.
This volume grew out of a special section of Focaal (volume 60)
on “Ethnographies of corporate ethicizing.” Sincere thanks are owed
to Luisa Steur, editor of Focaal, who shepherded that initial special
section that formed the seed for this volume, and to Christina Garsten,
our co-editor of the special section. We thank Focaal for permission to
reprint the essays by Cross, Dolan and Johnstone-Louis, Hardin, Li
and Rajak (which constitute chapters 1, 3, 5, 8 and 9 of this volume).
Chapter 4, “Power, inequality, and corporate social responsibility:
The politics of ethical compliance in the South Indian garment
industry” by Geert De Neve first appeared in Economic and Political
Weekly (volume 44, issue 22, 2009). We are grateful to Geert De Neve
and Economic and Political Weekly for granting permission to reprint
this article as a contribution to the present book. The Afterword, “Big
men and business: Morality, debt, and the corporation: A perspective”
by Robert Foster has also appeared as an article in Social Anthropology
(volume 20, issue 4, 2012). We are grateful to Social Anthropology
for permission to use his article in this volume. We are grateful to
– viii –

Acknowledgments   |   ix

Chicago University Press for permission to reprint Stuart Kirsch’s
essay “Virtuous language in industry and the academy” which was
first published in Corporate Social Responsibility? Human Rights in the
New Global Economy, edited by Charlotte Walker-Said and John D.
We would like to express our gratitude to Mick Blowfield and
Samuel Knafo for their tireless support and commitment to our work;
and to Lucy, Raphael and Noa for providing a joyful respite from it.

Toward the Anthropology of
Corporate Social Responsibility
Catherine Dolan and Dinah Rajak


As corporations confront new social and environmental challenges
to their operations—from concerns about labor productivity to
community resistance, climate change, or saturated markets—the
corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement has demonstrated
a powerful capacity to offer itself up as a solution. Today, ethical
initiatives—from certification and labeling schemes to cause-related
marketing and inclusive business programs—are ubiquitous,
circulating new regimes of accountability that aim to institute ethics
and social responsibility in global business practice. Indeed, while
ethics were once the province of philosophy and religion, they are
increasingly insinuated into corporate capitalism as the market
supplants politico-judicial and religious domains as society’s ethical
arbiter. It is now the global brand—whether Coca-Cola, Nike, WalMart, or L’Oréal—that serves as a guarantor of social welfare and
environmental stewardship, uniting financial profit with social good
in the localities in which companies operate across the globe, and
giving rise to a contemporary expression of what has become known
as “enlightened self-interest.”
Two decades ago James Ferguson, in making his case for an
anthropology of development, wrote that the study of development
had been dominated by an “ideological preoccupation with the
question of whether it is considered to be a ‘good thing’ or a ‘bad
thing’” (Ferguson 1994 [1990]: 14). The study of CSR has been
similarly polarized, drawing supporters and critics in equal measure.
While advocates extol CSR as a radical reorientation of business
for the twenty-first century, heralding a new era of “humane
capitalism,”1 critics have sought to expose CSR as “a Band Aid over

2   |   Catherine Dolan and Dinah Rajak

deep capitalist scars” (Jones 1996: 8), a smokescreen that can be blown
away to reveal an unchanging capitalist order (Sharp 2006). Yet, this
normative preoccupation with whether corporations are a “good” or
“bad” thing for society obscures not only the ideological fault lines
along which the study of CSR has run, but also the ambivalences,
contradictions and potentialities that inhere in the morality of the
corporate form. How then do we make sense of the emergence of
these new forms of ethical corporate capitalism, encapsulated in the
discourse and practice of corporate social responsibility?
Over the past decade, as corporate social responsibility has become
established as orthodoxy within the arena of both development and
multinational business and enshrined within a web of standards,
auditors and certifiers that make up a burgeoning ethical industry,
anthropologists have begun this process of sense-making, tracing
how “responsibility” is practiced in the everyday routines of
organizations and differentially grounded in particular social and
material realities. They have trained the ethnographic lens on CSR’s
moral economy in industries around the world, including garments
(De Neve 2009), soft drinks (Foster 2008), oil and gas (Shever 2008;
Appel 2012; Gardner 2012; Weszkalnys 2014), mining (Rajak 2011a;
Kirsch 2014a; Welker 2014), tobacco (Benson 2012), pharmaceuticals
(Ecks 2008), consumer goods (Cross and Street 2009; Dolan and
Roll 2013), sporting goods (Moeller 2013), and humanitarian objects
(Redfield 2013; Cross 2013; Dolan and Rajak forthcoming).2 In doing
so, anthropologists have explored CSR from two vantage points;
on the one hand focusing on the apparatus and architecture of
CSR (see, for example, Garsten and Jacobsson 2007; Welker 2009;
Benson and Kirsch 2010; Cross 2011; Rajak 2011a), and on the other
exploring CSR’s local effects, contestations and responses, etc. (see,
for example, Sawyer 2004; Kirsch 2006; De Neve 2009; Dolan and
Scott 2009; Li 2010; Gardner 2012; Gilberthorpe 2013). This volume,
which has grown out of a special section of Focaal (2011, volume 60)
on “Ethnographies of corporate ethicizing,” brings the two together,
tracking the production, circulation, deployment and outcomes of
CSR from boardrooms to operations and back again in a variety of
social, cultural, and geographical locations (Bangladesh, Cameroon,
Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, India, Peru, South
Africa, the UK, and the USA).3
In the years since the special issue came out, the anthropological
study of corporate social responsibility has expanded and developed—
pushing the boundaries of enquiry to new geographies, industries, and
confrontations. The goal of this larger collection is to bring together

Introduction   |   3

many of the key scholars involved in that enterprise, who have been
tracking the processes and outcomes of CSR ethnographically in
diverse contexts across the globe. In drawing together research at the
vanguard of this exciting and dynamic field, we hope that this volume
will open new avenues of enquiry into the morality of the corporate
form and highlight the contributions of anthropological knowledge to
the contemporary social and economic transformations CSR tenders.
Indeed, as more transnational corporations step in, so it seems, to fill
the ethical void, as it were, left in the wake of neoliberal capitalism,
there is a growing need to grapple with the myriad configurations of
CSR and the expectations, contradictions and frictions the movement
is generating.
The book raises several questions concerning the ethical turn of
corporate capitalism, including: how does the embedding of ethics
within commercial rationalities blur the boundaries between moral
and market forms of exchange? In what ways do systems of ethical
and environmental governance introduce new forms of management,
control and discipline that alienate rather than empower? To what
extent do CSR standards and protocols replace human forms of
sociality with a virtual “transnational economy of inspectability”
(Mutersbaugh 2005: 391)? Does corporate responsibility challenge
existing patterns of inequality, or is it implicated in the reproduction
of power inequalities, creating new geographies of inclusion and
exclusion? Crucially, a little over a decade since CSR was heralded as
a new panacea to underdevelopment at the 2002 World Summit on
Sustainable Development, we ask how CSR has evolved and mutated
as it navigates the fault lines between the exigencies of capital and
social obligation. The book addresses these questions through
ethnographic accounts of “ethical” practices in a range of transnational
corporations—Anglo American, Chevron, De Beers, ExxonMobil,
Barrick Gold, Newmont Mining, and Avon—revealing the local
realignments and reorderings of social relations produced through the
contemporary reign of corporate responsibility. The chapters in this
volume subject the “win-win” claims of CSR to sustained empirical
research, scrutinizing the intended and unintended outcomes of
CSR in practice in a variety of settings. In doing so they go a long
way toward untangling the hopes, ambivalences and contradictions
of CSR—bringing its unalloyed promise of empowerment through
business into sharp relief against the empirical realities of exclusionary
corporate-sponsored welfare, enhanced inequality, and conflict
and contestation. Crucially, a key insight that emerges collectively
from the chapters is that while the benefits of CSR may genuinely

4   |   Catherine Dolan and Dinah Rajak

be enjoyed by some of its stakeholders (to borrow the corporate
jargon), they are inevitably contingent on the inherent contradictions
of a doctrine that claims social responsibility for corporations while
eschewing obligation and entitlement. The promise of inclusion for
some almost invariably comes at the cost of exclusion, precarity or
disempowerment for others. As the ethnographic insights collected
here demonstrate, this fundamental contradiction—the capacity of
CSR discourse to enable corporations to simultaneously assert and
displace responsibility—is manifest most clearly in the mutually
involved rise of CSR and subcontracting in corporate strategy,
the former claiming responsibility in the same moment that the
corporation works to outsource, offshore or displace responsibility
down the supply chain (a theme to which we later return).
In this introduction, we trace the emergence of CSR in broad
brushstrokes, summarizing its trajectory and translations, and
alignments and disjunctures, as it travels from nineteenth-century
paternalism to twenty-first- century bottom billion capitalism. We
suggest that far from emulating a Latourian immutable mobile, an
object whose meanings and forms remain stable as they engage
diverse networks and geographies (Latour 1987), CSR continually
reinvents itself, as corporations mobilize new material practices,
forms of affect and discursive strategies in pursuit of new markets and
novel techniques for heading off new social and political challenges.
However this capacity for adaptation and reinvention has meant that
CSR tends to be represented as a novelty of millennial capitalism,
birthed in a post-Washington consensus era. Here, we briefly trace
its rise and evolution in order to contextualize and historicize the
apparent ethical turn in corporate capitalism, highlighting the deeper
roots and longer legacies of the corporate responsibility movement.

The shifting morphology of CSR
The contemporary wave of CSR came into focus in the 1990s as
allegations of corporate malfeasance, from financial scandals to
human rights abuses, swept across the US and Western Europe, airing
the moral failings of business to public scrutiny. As media exposés
and non-governmental organization (NGO) campaigns highlighted
the sweatshop conditions, ecological disasters and human rights
abuses wrought by global multinationals, many companies sought to
recoup credibility and avert brand-damaging attacks by incorporating
social and environmental concerns in business operations. Though

Introduction   |   5

CSR is often associated with the distinct standards, protocols and
principles adopted during this period, its scope is both temporally
and spatially broader, situated in a lineage of efforts to “moralize”
or “humanize” capitalism (Jenkins 2005; Hopkins 2007). Attempts to
regulate, harness and tame corporate power have taken shape since
the rise of the “modern” corporation and the antitrust movements
of the late nineteenth century (Jenkins 2005): from the nineteenthcentury boycotts of slave-produced sugar, the industrial paternalism
of Unilever’s Port Sunlight and Cadbury’s Bourneville, and the
corporate philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller
(Blowfield and Frynas 2005; Carroll 2008), to the enlightened self‐
interest model of the 1970s, ethical audits of the 1990s, and the
current emphasis on entrepreneurialism, self-empowerment, and
bottom of the pyramid (BoP) business, CSR is perpetually reasserted
and rewritten as it seeks to broker the uneasy relationship between
market and social imperatives.
Looking back over the past century, CSR has shown a chameleonlike capacity (Gond and Moon 2011) to respond to and incorporate
new ideas, embodying a shape-shifting character that finds currency
in response to the particular political-economic and social currents
in which it is deployed. Over the past decade CSR has shown itself
to be particularly adaptable, encompassing (and mainstreaming)
movements that often start out as alternative or even oppositional
to the corporate world, such as fair trade, as well as drawing on
new management frameworks/philosophies that promise to turn
development imperatives into business opportunities, such as BoP
business and cause-related marketing. Equally, as fair trade, ethical
consumption, and more recently, social business movements, have
been progressively mainstreamed and subject to corporate capture,
they should be seen within this broad, evolving landscape of CSR; as
part and parcel of the same apparatus with which corporations have
monopolized and deradicalized what were once seen as alternative
economic models and political movements (Shamir 2004). Indeed,
rather than reframing business interests to reflect social imperatives
or community needs, CSR can have the counter effect: reframing
the interests of communities and government to fit the priorities of
CSR is thus best seen as protean and multiply enacted—an
evolving and flexible and overlapping set of practices and discourses
(as opposed to a distinct set of initiatives or principles) through which
business (re)makes and asserts itself as an ethical actor, claiming to
elide the frictions between principles and profit by reframing (if not

6   |   Catherine Dolan and Dinah Rajak

actually reinvigorating) the responsibilities, interests and priorities
of the corporation. Like the corporate form itself, CSR confounds
stability; it transmogrifies, mutating, dividing and recombining
(Welker, Patridge and Hardin 2011: S4) through encounters with
diverse configurations of actors and institutions. Through its “capacity
for decontextualization and recontextualization, abstractability and
movement,” CSR materializes what Ong and Collier term a “global
assemblage,” circulating and taking on new meanings, artifacts and
practices of capitalism as it travels through and becomes emboldened
by corporations, business schools, development institutions, think
tanks, social enterprises, certification bodies, and consultancy
organizations (Thrift 2005 [1997]; Ong and Collier 2005: 11).
Equally, the empirical study of CSR in practice reveals how there is
often little intentionality or cohesion in the dispersion of CSR practices,
“no central, controlling corporate apparatus” or clear-cut rationality
that directs its course (Welker n.d.: 7). It often emerges reactively rather
than systematically, rolled out in fits and starts by particular actors and
sets of interests. Indeed, CSR can seem as mercurial as it is coherent:
corporations bait and switch in response to external pressures (for
example, Shell’s turn from philanthropy toward corporate citizenship
in the wake of the Brent Spar Oil Disaster (Shever 2010)) or deploy CSR
programs in parallel that are disjointed, disparate or contradictory to
one another, as Sydow’s chapter (this volume) evocatively shows.
Even during the classic CSR period of the 1990s and early 2000s, CSR
assumed a polyvalent character; on the one hand functioning as a
proxy state, assuming responsibility for job provision, social welfare,
infrastructure, and environmental stewardship (Welker 2014), and
on the other hand functioning as a form of technocratic governance
exercised through the rationalist instruments of corporate codes,
global compacts, and “best practice” guidelines; a pastoral ethics of
care lying side by side with the detachment of the “audit culture”
(Power 1997; Strathern 2000).
When viewed over a longer historical perspective we can see
how CSR has evolved from its earlier incarnation of corporate
philanthropy and paternalism to a contemporary rejection of
that paternalism and on toward an emphasis on promoting local
enterprise, entrepreneurialism, self-empowerment and BoP business
as the cornerstones of sustainable development, very much mirroring
shifts in the agendas of the international development arena more
broadly. Today, corporate actors are seen less as patrons and stewards
than as catalysts, championing the mundane everyday workings
of the market as the solution to social problems through what Roy

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