Lately, it has been apparent to me that many businesses, hospitals, schools, and other entities are unaware of the numerous benefits that anthropologists, and our deep understanding of people and culture, could provide their organizations. 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.
Anthropology desperately needs to rebrand itself. We need to clarify to the public that not only do we study human cultures at home and abroad, but we also have much to contribute to organizations struggling with hot-button issues like diversity and inclusion, corporate social responsibility, and user-centered design. We need to reclaim and “own” the contributions that originated in our discipline, like ethnography and the holistic approach.
I have always believed in public engagement, and my projects have always included a public interest component. However, as an academic anthropologist, I had not given much thought as to how the discipline markets itself to the public. But over the years I have become increasingly concerned about the continual need to explain to others (even within academe) what anthropologists do and why it matters. As I delve more into applied anthropology, especially in the corporate sector, I see this as an enormous liability that affects not only anthropologists, but other social scientists and the people we aim to help as well. We need to come together as a discipline—whether academic or practitioner—to rebrand our beloved field and launch a massive marketing effort.
I realize some of my colleagues may be turned off by my use of business terms such as “branding” and “marketing”…call it what you like, but a rose is still a rose. Media exposure is still sparse, but is growing though concerted efforts by some anthropologists already engaged in promoting the merits of our discipline for business (see businessanthro.com, Morais and Briody 2018). The reality is most people don’t understand what we do, to both our and their detriment. To meet this challenge, we need to partner with our colleagues in disciplines like I/O Psychology and Marketing who have appropriated our concepts of culture, ethnography, relativism, etc., often without crediting anthropology as the field from which they came. We should reach out to businesses, hospitals, schools, and other organizations to demonstrate how they could benefit from our expertise. We should all be prepared to answer the question “how can an anthropologist benefit my business?” until businesses already know without having to ask.