NAPA Mentoring FAQs
Understanding Business Anthropology
Section compiled by Robert J. Morais
Weinman Schnee Morais, Inc.
1. What is Business Anthropology?
Anthropology has been applied in business for decades by companies that seek innovative ideas and methods for branding, advertising, product innovation and design, organizational effectiveness, and global engagement. Businesses are drawn to anthropology’s principal research method, ethnography. This mix of observation and interviewing methods enables firms to understand their customers, partners, suppliers, and themselves better.
The data collected about such topics as brand experiences, values, beliefs, and behavior, as well as organizational culture, are useful in gaining strategic insights, identifying what is working well, and improving alignment or addressing weaknesses that reduce organizational effectiveness.
Ethnography provides ways to examine organizational operations from a fresh perspective. Major corporations such as Google, Intel, and IBM recognize the contributions of staff anthropologists; companies like Procter & Gamble, Campbell Soup, Nissan, Mars, and Coca Cola, among countless others, hire anthropologists as consultants; numerous advertising agencies and design firms employ anthropologists; and many marketing research firms specialize in business anthropology.
In fact, business opportunities for recent graduates and others with an anthropological sensibility and toolkit have never been better.
2. How can I find out more about business anthropology?
You will find many sources of information. There are two, new peer-reviewed business anthropology journals (Journal of Business Anthropology; International Journal of Business Anthropology). Over a dozen LinkedIn groups focus on business anthropology. The Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC) is devoted to business anthropology. NAPA, the Society for Applied Anthropology, and various conferences likewise offer sessions, panels, and events on this topic. Several articles and books on business anthropology have been published in recent years (see below).
3. Are there additional resources?
In addition to the two dedicated business anthropology journals noted above (Journal of Business Anthropology and International Journal of Business Anthropology), you will find that Human Organization, Practicing Anthropology, Culture and Organization, and American Anthropologist, among others, contain articles on business anthropology from time to time. Among the extended essays/books to explore are:
- Marietta Baba. 2006. “Anthropology and Business” in H. J. Birx, ed. Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Elizabeth K. Briody, Robert T. Trotter and Tracy L. Meerwarth. 2014. Transforming Culture: Creating and Sustaining Effective Organizations. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. (The original publication year was 2010; this is the paperback.)
- Melissa Cefkin, Ed. 2009. Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter: Reflections on Research in and of Corporations. New York: Berghahn.
- Rita M. Denny and Patricia L. Sunderland, Eds. 2014. Handbook of Business Anthropology. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
- Gary P. Ferraro and Elizabeth K. Briody. 2013. The Cultural Dimension of Global Business. Seventh Edition. Boston: Pearson.
- Wendy Gun, Ton Otto, and Rachel Charlotte Smith, Eds. 2013. Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice. Oxford: Bloomsbury.
- Ann Jordan. 2013. Business Anthropology. Second Edition. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press.
- Brigitte Jordan, Ed. 2013. Advancing Ethnography in Corporate Environments: Challenges and Emerging Opportunities.Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
- Sam Ladner. 2014. Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
- Robert V. Kozinets. 2010. Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Timothy de Waal Malefyt and Brian Moeran. eds. 2003. Advertising Cultures. Oxford: Berg.
- Timothy de Waal Malefyt and Robert J. Morais, Eds. 2017. Ethics in the Anthropology of Business: Explorations in Theory, Practice, and Pedagogy. New York and London: Routledge.
- Timothy de Waal Malefyt and Robert J. Morais. 2012. Advertising and Anthropology: Ethnographic Practice and Cultural Perspectives. Oxford: Berg/Bloomsbury.
- Hy Mariampolski. 2006. Ethnography for Marketers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Maryann McCabe. 2016. Collaborative Ethnography in Business Environments. New York and London: Routledge.
- Grant McCracken. Chief Culture Officer. 2009. New York: Basic Books. (See also his blog: www.cultureby.com)
- Brian Moeran. 2014. The Business of Creativity. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
- Riall Nolan, Ed. 2013. A Handbook of Practicing Anthropology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.
- Patricia L. Sunderland and Rita M. Denny. 2007. Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
- Susan Squires and Bryan Byrne, eds. 2002. Creating Breakthrough Ideas: The Collaboration of Anthropologists and Designers in the Product Development Industry. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.
- Detiev Zwick and Julien Cayla, Eds. 2011. Inside Marketing: Practices, Ideologies, Devices. Oxford: Oxford University Press.