Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Critical Perspectives on International Business

Publisher Name

Emerald Publishing Limited



This paper aims to highlight differences between business and non-business literature regarding base of the pyramid (BoP) and subsistence contexts and reveal discourse’s powerful role in influencing goals, solutions and outcomes.


This paper uses critical discourse analysis to review a convenience sample of business versus non-business literature on the BoP and subsistence contexts.


Discourse used in business literature on the BoP is oriented toward hegemonic Western capitalist approaches that result in the depletion of resources, resource inequalities, poverty and increased consumption, dependence and environmental degradation and, therefore, cannot alleviate poverty.

Research limitations/implications

There are two primary limitations: the study relied on a convenience sample that was not random and comparatively, the business BoP literature is not as mature as the non-business subsistence literature and, therefore, the BoP field of study is not yet fully developed.

Practical implications

Discourse has a powerful role in revealing assumptions and guiding actions. A change in BoP discourse toward a strength-based approach can serve as a model of sustainability and can help powerful entities enact structural and systemic change.


This paper reveals the role of discourse in business BoP literature and how it perpetuates and even exacerbates the problems they were designed to alleviate: depletion of resources, resource inequalities, poverty and increased consumption, dependence and environmental degradation. The paper challenges researchers, economists and powerful guiding entities to reorient their discourse of the BoP to be more aligned with those of non-business researchers of subsistence markets.


ISSN: 1742-2043


Author Posting © Emerald Publishing Limited, 2020. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Emerald Publishing Limited for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Critical Perspectives on International Business, March 2020.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.