For most anthropologists, working in business isn’t just a career choice. Giving voice to the voiceless and bringing attention to the implications of business decisions on existing human values and social relations is experienced as a moral obligation. It is a perspective that is also seen as one that is desperately needed in the business domain.
Vitally important to being heard and understood as an anthropologist working for business is an ability to recognize and adapt to the language, objectives, and models of the domain. However, even experienced anthropologists describe this undertaking as a delicate balance between overlapping worldviews that challenges their ability to maintain their own sense of professional identities and practices as anthropologists.
Anthropologists serve as interlocutors of diverse cultural paradigms, interrogating, recontextualizing, and ultimately enmeshing them in a “rigorous formulation” to close the gaps in divergent models and language practices between business and anthropology. It is unfortunate, then, that theory and analysis is rarely ever given its due credit in business domains.
In the context of competitive markets and profit-driven motives, tracking progress and striving for efficiency makes sense as an imperative of all businesses. Within the business community, a practitioner’s ability to work within the standardized time constraints common across all business domains is a signifier of that practitioner’s experience and expertise – or lack thereof.
New strategies and trends in business and design that derive from anthropological origins are represented as efforts to empathize with users and consumers by walking in their shoes. However, researchers that have been educated in a four-field anthropology program have developed habits of thought for analyzing what is generally accepted or understood and expand or reframe social and cultural knowledge through theoretical and conceptual frameworks.
With the advent and proliferation of digital technologies into nearly every facet of life today there is almost no research topic in the modern world that doesn’t include a virtual or technological component. While these practices raise issues of privacy and power, the notion that vast amounts of data can be automatically and immediately collected with little cost or training is an alluring proposition for many businesses.