A sought after attribute of researchers from private companies is an aptitude to work cross-functionally, or work with colleagues outside of those from your own domain. Anthropologists are well poised to understand the importance of – and possess the ability to – embed themselves in teams and build relationships across them. In academics, the term cultural broker is often used
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Anthropologists are particularly suited to be qualitative UX researchers, and applied Anthropologists are well trained for careers in industry. I can only write about my personal experience, but if you earned a degree in anthropology, I would love to hear how similar or different your experiences have been. At the University of Memphis’ Masters of Applied Anthropology Program, we learned how to execute research methods and analysis, determine which method was best suited to particular research questions, and how to manage stakeholders. That’s all you really need to know to start your career as a User Experience Researcher (UER).
Image Credit: Kosal Sen I work as a user experience (UX) researcher. When I sat down to write this post for NAPA, I was faced with a question. Am I also an anthropologist? I never thought of myself as a practitioner of anthropology. Maybe it’s because I didn’t study anthropology in school. Maybe it’s because when I hear the term
In 2011, when I first began my career as a researcher in the context of business and design, I knew almost nothing about the field I had decided to work in. I lacked a basic understanding of how products are designed, how businesses work, and how to work with people in this world. What I did know was that my
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.
As anthropologists, whether we are undergraduate students or are pursuing/have pursued masters or doctorate degrees, whether we work in industry or in academia, we have a lot in common with each other: we learn the history of our discipline, the methods and theories, and we all learn to do ethnographic research. We have a common language and shared understanding of terms. Beyond our disciplinary boundaries, however, language and terminology get less common and understanding is less shared.
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.
Anthropologists are trained to find solutions to problems by approaching them holistically—from all sides—and through critical thinking, grounded in our theories and methods. Few disciplines prepare their practitioners so well to tackle the problems of the modern world by incorporating our broad knowledge of human evolution, history, biology, and behavior across the world’s cultures. Unfortunately, and to our discipline’s detriment, not enough people or businesses are informed of what anthropologists do and how we can help.