Research Output
An Examination of ‘Irregular Competition’ between Corporations and NGOs
  The purpose of this article is to develop a theory which frames the demands of civil society in such a way as to better enable corporate subjects to manage and navigate ‘irregular’ engagement from activist organizations. Activist NGOs engage in advocacy at times by mounting, facilitating or encouraging popular social campaigns and actions against targeted corporations. In many cases, radical ‘direct action’ tactics are adopted, taking such approaches, NGOs may capitalise on the broader, more ethically diverse strategic possibilities open to them than are available to their corporate adversaries. We employ institutional theory to map out this asymmetric distribution of strategic possibility. We theorise NGOs and corporate subjects as effectively ‘competing’ with one another to maximise their own strategic possibilities and to minimise those of their opponents, in the perennial battle for hearts and minds that plays out between NGOs, corporate subjects, and broader civil society actors who ultimately determine boundary rules for NGOcorporate conflict. Within this context we explore the normative challenge arising from the possibility that corporate subjects might seek to tip the competitive balance by learning from how the military has adapted to successfully engage with ‘irregular’ adversaries through what is often termed ‘asymmetric’ or ‘irregular’ warfare. Should corporations follow a similar adaptive process, by mirroring the ‘irregular’ strategies of activist groups? Drawing evidence from the military experience, we suggest—perhaps counter intuitively—that such adaptations can create new opportunities for conflict resolution and for building sustainable cooperation between former adversaries.

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  • Date:

    26 August 2011

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  • Funders:

    Historic Funder (pre-Worktribe)


Marshall, A., Telofski, R., Ojiako, U., & Chipulu, M. (2012). An Examination of ‘Irregular Competition’ between Corporations and NGOs. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 23(2), 371-391.



Advocacy conflict; Activist NGOs; Private politics

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