Showing posts with label commercial anthropology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label commercial anthropology. Show all posts

Friday, 13 July 2012

The "boomlet" in anthropology-inspired business consultancy...and a useful byproduct

I found myself promoting consultancies run by or employing PhD anthropologists in the early noughties boomlet for such companies described by a new post by Laurel George here: http://savageminds.org/2012/07/11/anthropology-of-snacks-widgets-and-pills/. They wanted to cultivate a mystique around anthropology/ethnography and position bone fide academically trained practitioners and their approaches to research as essential to solving certain business problems relating to marketing and R&D.

This goal was somewhat undermined by a legion of rivals newly describing their own qualitative approaches as ethnography, making it hard to bring attention to the particular skills possessed by anthropologists and further removing the process from anything the academy would recognise (Simon Roberts lists many of the approaches lumped under the umbrella of ‘ethnography’ in the book edited by Sarah Pink ‘Applications of Anthropology’, pg.86). That's not to ignore the prior adoption and adaptation of ethnography in the hands of other academic disciplines.

Arguments about what is or isn’t ethnography aside, the boomlet did help to spread the word about anthropology. On a personal level, without it my interest in anthropology may have never been piqued to the extent of pursuing a Masters in digital anthropology at UCL.

At a time when some in anthropology are asking "why the discipline has not gained the popularity and respect it deserves" (http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=RZTbpm-7p7EC&dq=eriksen%20anthropology&source=gbs_similarbooks), those in Laurel's past position and the third of anthropology PhDs for whom there are no academic positions at all (Spencer et al., 2005 – http://www.theasa.org/news/careers_research.doc) have surely contributed to getting the word out. Beyond inadvertently turning people like me on to the subject, whatever their doubts about participating in commercial activity they, along with other applied anthropologists, are arguably also helping advance the grander goal of “making [culture] available as a scrutinizing lens for our society at large,” a useful byproduct (http://www.practicagroup.com/pdfs/Sunderland_and_Denny_Psychology_vs_Anthropology.pdf).

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Suchman: anthropology as square peg to business' round hole?

UCL hosted eminent (commercial) anthropologist and definitively NOT the inventor of the green photocopier button Lucy Suchman on Monday. Having tired of working at Xerox a while ago and now back in academia she turned her experience into a paper due to go to the ARA later this year. The thrust was that there is a poor fit between what anthropology/ethnography can offer and what a commercial ‘centre of innovation research’ expects in terms of deliverables.

Not me, guv
Her biggest gripe was with different understandings of innovation i.e. as discontinuous, transformative, centralisable and down to the efforts of a heroic designer vs. the reality of innovation as a gradualist, reproductive, contingent, distributed and collaborative process.

Check out ex Intel anthropologist Simon Roberts' blog, Ideas Bazaar, for another take on 'Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter', incidentally-on-purpose the title of an instructive book by Melissa Cefkin which looks at the pluses as well as minuses.