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Anthropology OF Business
• Motivated by the realization that business is a
major and growing component of human lives
• If anthropology claims to be about the whole of
humanity, it cannot ignore business
Anthropology IN Business
• Applied, with business objectives
• Constrained by goals, schedules, and budgets set
by the clients who pay for the service
Why be interested?
• If you are pursuing an academic career
• Teaching in business schools becomes a possibility
• If you need to ﬁnd employment outside of the academy
• Think about your professor, who found a career in
• Those who may one day hire and manage business
• What can you expect? What can they do for you?
Who is your professor
“In Taiwan, I studied magicians. In Japan, I joined the guild.”
• A US citizen who has lived in Japan since 1980
• An anthropologist whose ﬁrst ﬁeldwork was in Taiwan, 1969-1971
• A failed academic, who didn’t get tenure
• A copywriter and creative director for Japan’s second largest advertising agency,
• A lecturer in the Graduate Program in Comparative Culture at Sophia University in Tokyo,
teaching seminars on “The Making and Meaning of Advertising” and “Marketing in Japan”
• A partner in a small translation business that provides much of the English text for art
exhibitions in Japan
• An independent scholar whose publications range from Daoist magic to Japanese
consumer behavior and award-winning creative teams in Japanese advertising
How does this class work?
• No exams. No papers. A journal.
• The journal does have a prescribed format
• Core and suggested readings
• Optional projects
• In the ﬁrst entry, write yourself a letter describing
what you want to get out of the course. Hopes,
dreams, clear objectives? That is up to you.
• In the last entry, write a letter to your professor
describing what you learned from the course
• In all of the other entries, follow a ﬁxed format
The Required Format
• Quote or observation
• Quotes are words, phrases, sentences that catch your eye. Copy them.
• Observations are what you perceive, described as neutrally as
• Rephrase the quote or observation and write down what it seems to
• What question/question does your interpretation leave unanswered?
From the “Introduction” to Handbook of Anthropology in Business, ed. by Patricia Sunderland and Rita Denny, P. 13
Anthropology in business is a matrix of multiple endeavors that on the one hand has existed for a very long time and on the other is just
coming into view. Actors in this terrain include anthropologists, their sociological kin, designers, and ethnographers of other disciplinary
origins who have found themselves working with or for business or who take business as an object of study…
Our choice of “Anthropology in Business” rather than “Business Anthropology” as the title of the handbook was purposeful. To call it the
latter seemed too great a presupposition of an existing ﬁeld with established parameters and boundaries….
Anthropology in business is not one thing. We might call it a cluster of projects in search of a shared identity. It is old. It is new. It does not
belong to anthropologists alone. Is the question “What is it?” a good one. Deﬁnition is not a good place to begin. I recall that the authors are
academically trained anthropologists who left the academy to do anthropology IN business.
What are the dimensions of this “matrix of multiple endeavors”? Dimensions, not boundaries.
*I am reminded of Claude Lévi-Strauss image in which knowledge is like stars, clusters and galaxies emerging from cosmic dust.
** For me, this image is attractive because it resonates with the visualizations used in social network analysis.
*** What happens if we drop “in business”? “Anthropology is a matrix of multiple endeavors…” Sounds right to me.
• Brian Moeran and Christina Garsten, “What’s in a Name? Editors
Introduction to the Journal of Business Anthropology http://
• Melissa Cefkin, “Close Encounters: Anthropologists in the
Corporate Arena” http://ej.lib.cbs.dk/index.php/jba/article/view/
• John L. McCreery & Keiko Yamaki, “The Anthropology of Business
and Administration in Japan” In R.Denny & P. Sunderland, eds.
Handbook of Anthropology in Business, pp. 266-285
• Sam Ladner, Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing
Ethnography in the Private Sector. Routledge, 2014.
• Journal of Business Anthropology
• Grant McCracken
• International Journal of Business Anthropology
• Melissa Cefkin, ed. Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter: Reﬂections
on Research in and of Corporations
• Brigitte Jordan, ed. Advancing Ethnography in Corporate Environments
• Sierk Ybema, Dvora Yanow, Harry Wels & Frans Kamsteeg, ed.
Organizational Ethnography: Studying the Complexities of Everyday Life
• Rita Denny & Patricia Sunderland, ed., Handbook of Anthropology in
• 松世祥, 百公里的人类学家 [Song Shih-hsiang, Anthropologists in All Sorts of
• Joi Ito & Jeff Howe, Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future. Grand
• Learning over Education
• Knowledge as Art
• Not a jigsaw puzzle. Not sketching from life.
• Practice over Theory
Your Own Project?
• Tell us about it
• Recruit a team
• Observe, interview, think
• Share your ideas