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Demand and supply of business anthropologists: discussions among group members

Below are some discussions by the businessanthropologist group members on certain issues for your references.  If you are willing to involve in the discussion please sign up and join the group by visiting my blog: www.businessanthropology.blogspot.com





To be honest, I worry a little bit about the supply-demand factor in business anthropology.  My graduate class in anthropology started out with 20 people, and by the end (1998-9) only several of us graduated.  Most of the people longed to go into teaching, and therefore did not concentrate on business anthropology but rather classical regional anthropology (especially Latin American studies).  As a post-Sovietologist, I have found out that the market wound down for these studies after 10 years.   With the recession it is now doubly difficult.  I think that personally it is important to go back and forth between industry, fieldwork and teaching.  But I don't know people that have done this.  I think Europe is the better environment for this right now.


Perhaps some of your colleagues have some ideas.  Even areas of microfinance, where I have been doing research in the last year, have been trumped by the recession.   So I am stumped as to what to do.


Can I ask you how many times a year the Business Anthropology Journal is published?  Are there competitors?  How long has it been in publication?  


What about people working in the various research firms, or do you mostly want academics?   You know this field, so perhaps you have a better idea of supply-demand.  Certainly more textbooks should generate interest, but many people now are afraid of PhDs, not to mention even MBAs and law degrees.  What about writers in Asia (China and India).   I know nothing about India, but is there a way to get the announcements to schools that specialize in business anthropology in the US, such as Wayne State, or schools in Europe and India and elsewhere?


I hope my friend in economic anthropology will apply.  Other than that, the people that I know, such as Melissa Fisher and Janine Wedel, are already well published and would not be looking to publish more articles.  So I am just trying to brainstorm here.  I really am interested in the convergence between business and anthropology, and going forward I hope more interest is generated despite the recession.


So my only idea right now is reaching out to professional associations and schools ….


In any case, I am concerned because I want this field to grow, and it is hard for anyone to do this singlehandedly.  Do your colleagues in Europe (Netherlands, Great Britain, France, etc.) have some researchers who have case studies that they are working on?





Dear Robert, Dear Hilda,


As an anthropologist in Europe, currently teaching while doing some applied work in corporations on the side, I have come to see more and more that there are different resistences on either side of the Atlantic going beyond current economic recession. As usual, there is culture to it. No doubt we need to publish more and Robert is putting up a great contribution for everyone in that regard. I think, however, that Professor Marieta Baba made a very good case in point around the resistence of Europe to applied anthropology (business anthropology inclusive), on this side of the ocean:




Going back to the previous postings on this list, I think that the way forward to business and corporate anthropologists getting a foot in industry is to start addressing questions of validity and triangulating with quantitative methods. The time for 'I'm an ethnographer who works alone, comes up with the stuff in a language that only a few understand, and I will not tell you how I have come up with my conclusions because not being an anthropologist, you couldn't possibly understand'...is gone.


We need triangulation with statistics and clearer communication strategies. Triangulating with statistics could also give us further access to publications not aimed solely at business anthropology. Professor Russel Bernard is obviously developping precious work on the integration of the qualitative and the quantitative in anthropology.


We also need a good marketing plan for business anthropology that can minimize the differences between your side and our side of the ocean.


Just a thought.




I can't answer the question about what is more usual but I do know that more and more people who are actually in the business world are embracing the world of business anthropology, although they don't refer to it as that.

Many companies are employing software that interfaces with their security cameras. This software allows for the tracking of a person from the time they enter the parking lot until the time they exit it. This software utilizes RFID tags, which are basically tags encoded with information unique to that particular item. Not only will the company know that the customer picked up a blue sweater, they will also know exactly which blue sweater. They will be able to know when that sweater arrived in the store and can trace it back to the manufacturer who made it.

The technology allows companies to see how customers interact with items, signs, and displays. They can track how much time a customer spent in a particular area. If the customer pays with plastic or check, then the company can add more information to the data base.

Companies are also starting to use mobile technology so that consumers can "self-select" to receive promotions via their mobile device. The company then can capture more data about that particular customer.

It is not too far-fetched to see that someday, through the use of R.F.I.D., a company will be able to track where the items you are wearing when you come into the store came from. From that point, they can estimate how long before you will need to replace the items you are wearing based upon how often you wear them into a store that uses the technology.

In this case, we will all want to make sure our socks match and that we change them often.

David E. McClendon Sr.





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Comment by Barry R. Bainton on May 12, 2011 at 5:36pm

Dear Hilda


  Check out the US Bureau of Labor Statistics


Barry Bainton

Comment by Barry R. Bainton on June 18, 2011 at 2:20pm
Comment by Barry R. Bainton just now
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David makes a good point about the technological overload that is emerging. Data, tonnes of data, will be available and are available about consumer behavior. But what does it mean? This is where the anthropologist, strategically positioned in the supply chain and in the corporation, has an advantage. The gathering of market data is the same as international espionage and we all know how good that process works especially when it is stove-piped.


Anthropology is more than participant observation. Go back to the Boasian protocol and you will see that a holistic, comparative, and historically/environmentally contextual approach to the data -- confirmed through participant observation is the heart of the anthropological analysis. We go through so many fads and linguistic games to be unique that nobody, least of all many of our colleagues, know what anthropology really is and what an anthropologically trained person can do.


An effective strategy for the business anthropologist is to become the data consolidator and interpreter for the business owner, or the client. While David describes what can be collected, he did not explain how this can be used in anyway different from what is now being done, only more detail. Anthropology can provide another interpretive paradigm linked to the broader business context - such a market trends, disruptions and discontinuities. But this requires some new thinking within anthropology as well as within the business community. Maybe this more than most would be willing to attempt.

The easy escape is to try to retreat to the academy or museum -- the ancestral nurturing grounds -- and avoid the real world. However, like the sparrow fledgling popping out of our bird house this June, you have to learn to spread your wings and take chances with the equipment you have been given and are trained with if you want to get over to the bird feeder with the big boys/girls..


It is what you can do for the client or employer that counts -- not the brand name "anthropology." Do a good job selling your abilities to solve the client's or employer's problem and then create value for them. Afterward you can sell the brand, anthropology, and it will have meaning. Right now accounting and law have created a proven brand and therefore command a premium price. Anthropology is still Indiana Jones and Bones so it only commands a generic price..Show the business world how to use anthropological skills, profitably, to get value from all this data that they are buying and anthropology can become a brand and also command a premium price.


Basic principle: Prove the product and give birth to a brand. Not the other way around.


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