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Corporate Anthropology and the Anthropologist as Pain-in-the-Butt

In his recent post titled “The Rise of Corporate Anthropology” (Harvard Business Online), Tom Davenport discusses the value of using anthropological methods in the corporate world. I am drawn particularly to his observation that anthropology and anthropologists can be difficult:

Of course, it’s not easy. Anthropologists can be a pain in the butt. They will want to watch for a long time before coming to a conclusion — longer than you will deem reasonable. They will question your fundamental assumptions. They will insist on interpreting every little thing. They may even resist your desire to intervene in the work process they’ve studied, particularly if it means worse working conditions for the workers involved.

(These are good things, of course.)

The post is useful for its brief review of the history of business anthropology — many of his examples have been discussed before in the anthropology blogosphere. And, he concludes with the provocative idea that we would see more corporate anthropology if academics supported it as a valid subfield of study:

We would be seeing even more corporate anthropology if universities recognized it as a valid field. Many professors still look down upon the discipline.

Oh, and check out the comments for other ‘popular’ impressions about the good and the bad of anthropological and social science research in the business world.

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