Monday, January 31, 2011

Business Anthropologists in the Business World: Our Troops and Our Future

IJBA Vol. 2 (1) Editorial Commentary

Anthropology is a discipline that has developed a wide array of qualitative techniques for understanding people and their behavior over the last hundred or so years.  Although toolkit of anthropology is broad, flexible, and illuminating,  for many years, these analytic methods were treated as second class citizens within the business world because research tastes were skewed towards quantitative and so called “rigorous scientific” methods.  Less formal techniques, such as those that distinguish anthropology, used not to be considered respectable by the business professionals in the past.  However, that kind of perspective is proved to be inaccurate by the business anthropologists all over the world and thus becomes past tense (Walle 2010) 

The fast advancement of technology in the last two decades has helped business to expend in all the industries and led the new trend of continuously growing of complex organizations.  At the same time consumers have become less easily accessible or satisfied by the existing products and services, which requests the business firms must continuously improve their business models as well as consciously modify their existing products and services to satisfy their customers.  The interactions between producers and consumers become even more important than ever before to the business firms to be profitable, the traditional ways of doing business become less effective and the new ways of doing business become primary concerns to the business leaders everywhere in the world.  The changing business environments and conditions have created unpredictable opportunities for anthropologists whose anthropological knowledge and techniques enable them to play a distinctive role in today’s business world and create a new field of study termed as business anthropology (Jordan 2003 and 2010, Tian, Lillis, and van Marrewijk 2010).

Business anthropology is defined as a practical oriented scholastic field in which business anthropologists apply anthropological theories and methods to identify and solve real business problems in everyday life.  Business anthropologists are all those anthropologists who study the business fields of management, operations, marketing, consumer behavior, organizational culture, human resources management, international business, and so on through anthropological methods, particularly through ethnographic methods, such as participant observation, informal and structured interviews, and other anthropological based research methods (Baba 2006). Business anthropologists are able to play key roles in the business world, by helping corporations develop culturally appropriate ways of doing business with suppliers, business partners, or customers.  Promoting smooth working relationships among employees who are more and more likely, thanks to recent equal opportunity employment legislation, to represent different age groups, ethnic groups, and both sexes (Aguilera 1996, Ferraro 1998).

Dr. Ann Jordan, one of the flagship leading scholars in the field of business anthropology, stresses that business anthropologists tap various sources of information by getting to know the people within the organization. Business anthropologists take a “holistic” approach, study old realities in new ways, and understand the value of diverse groups in terms of culture differences, doing their work in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations (Jordan 2003). It is estimated that in today’s world there are several thousand well-qualified anthropologists working in business organizations of one sort or another. Business anthropology is turned to be the most appropriate way for scholars and businessmen alike to understand why and how people around them do as they do, why and how organizations function in the ways that they function, as well as why and how consumers choose to purchase the goods and services that they prefer (Tian 2010, van Marrewijk 2010). As the result the business anthropologists are employed as faculty members in universities and business schools from Asia to America, from Europe to Africa.  

Dozens of existing academic journals devoted to publishing various aspects of scholastic works by anthropologists in different fields all over the world. Most of these journals are concerned with the traditional studies by anthropologists, such as: cultures, ethnicity, kinship and economic organization, political relations, ethnic mobilizations, networks, magic, ritual, symbolism, and so on. Some of these journals are prepared to consider articles by anthropologists on newer themes in the production and consumption of media forms, such as the Internet and so forth. A few such kind of journals publish articles about business more generally. The International Journal of Business Anthropology, compared with these traditionally oriented academic journals, is a unique and dedicated journal for business anthropologists.  The authorship and readership that make up our troops are included, but not limited to, all scholars and practitioners who use anthropological theories and methods to study and to solve the real business problems in the real business world.

Our troops are growing along with the growth of the business world, our future is obviously closely connected with the future development of business.  Technologies advances and globalization not only change the way people do business but also the way they think about it.  Firms must rethink what they offer, how they listen, with whom they collaborate, what they say, what they do, how their promises will be viewed.  Anthropology is well positioned to provide all these kinds of insights.   We are very excited about the growth of business anthropology as a field of study, we are very positive that this growing field will be employing many more anthropologists in the future.  We believe that in this globalized world in which we live, there is a great need for anthropologists in business consulting, organizational behavior, human resources management, competitive intelligence, globalization, product design and development, marketing, and consumer behavior studies.

In this new issue we selected seven articles from a large submissions to publish.  Dr. Brian Moeran displays a considerable knowledge about the processes of cultural production, exploring and delineating, the effects of a range of constraints on what he termed as “creativity.” Dr. Moeran explores the concept of creativity and its production in the context of several “creative industries”, include advertising, fashion, and craft production. He argues that the concept of creativity now has a certain cache, given the rise of “creative hubs” and “creative cities”, but is taken for granted by actors in creative industries as well as social scientists studying these industries. Framed in this way, Dr. Moeran’s paper is relevant and promises to be useful for mapping out a number of relationships that will help to develop a sharper understanding of the concept of creativity and cultural production.

Dr. Alf Walle probes the role that business anthropologists can have in facilitating the intellectual rights of indigenous people.  He argues that indigenous people have something of value (heritage) that they want to protect and at the same time exploit, but the current typical legal system of intellectual property rights affords them no protection, no property rights in their own heritage. However, others are financially profiting from this heritage, creating an unjust situation. Dr. Walle suggests that anthropologists working in the capacity of business anthropologists can have a substantial role in ensuring the indigenous peoples’ systems of intellectual ownership are respected and considered side by side with mainstream intellectual regimes. 

Dr. Hsain Ilahiane explores ways in which urban micro-entrepreneurs use the mobile phone as a tool to organize a newly networked work life.  He argues that mobile phone use expands the productive opportunities of certain types of activities by enhancing social networks, reducing risks associated with employment seeking, and enabling bricolage or freelance service work, leading to higher incomes.  Dr. Ilahiane reveals how the use of mobile phones for bricolage jobs begins to transform, rather than simply augment and reinforce, the social and economic ties of micro-entrepreneurs.  He looks at ways in which the mobile phone is distinct from traditional technologies. Dr. Ilahiane’s findings highlight new approaches to think about designing innovative mobile applications to serve the needs of micro-entrepreneurs in the developing world. 

In their article “Cross-Cultural Personality and Values: A Case Study of Mongolian Vs Taiwanese Doctors and Nurses”, Dr. Tain-Fung Wu, Munkh-Ulzii Batmunkh, and Alex S. R. Lai appraise various differences in cross-cultural attributes concerning personality and values between the North and the Southeast Asians. They provide an empirical exploration of Taiwanese and Mongolian respondents working in medical contexts through variables of personality and culture.  They contend that personality and value have been considered significant indicators in predicting personal behavior. Their findings make the contribution to measuring personality and values within the perspective of cross-culture differences.

Xingying Zhou and Liangmei Yu provide a case study on Chinese immigrant in the US labor market.  They take the immigrants from Guantou Town, Fujian Province, China, as the target group to explore how they acculturate in the American labor market. The immigrants under their discussion have a strong desire to join the main stream society of America for a better life, however, with a number of limitations, in particular, inadequate understanding of the target culture, low competence of the target language, low level of education, and wrong life expectation, they tend to adopt the strategies of separation or marginalization in the process of acculturation, thus resulting in great stress and dissatisfaction.

Dr. Fernanda Duarte uses the concept of organizational culture to understand the culture of corporate social responsibility in a Brazilian Mining Corporation and provides a theoretical underpinning followed by a detailed description of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in practice. Dr. Duarte, based on an exploratory study carried out in 2008 on a Brazilian mining corporation, contributes to the field of business anthropology by applying the notion of organizational culture within the specific context of CSR. She argues that organizations that consciously embrace values such as social justice and environmental sustainability develop rich “CSR cultures” over time with specific structures, practices and symbolic manifestations. This type of organizational culture shapes the company’s identity, purpose and outlook, generating unique histories and meanings.  Dr. Duarte enhances our understanding of how CSR is manifested culturally and the analysis can be extended to other types of companies, both those that succeed and fail at CSR.

The article by Dr. Gao Chong is an ethnographic case study on petty entrepreneurs in garment industry in Guangzhou, China. It examines the economic implications of Chinese kinship towards everyday business operations. Dr. Gao argues that over the past decades, the anthropological study of Chinese kinship often emphasizes on its sociocultural functioning to understand the organization and structure of Chinese society but the economic benefits and returns from the involvement of kinship are underestimated and even neglected. He studies why, how, and to which extent, the kinship is involved in a concrete and ongoing business process, and illustrates how the mobilization of kinship brings competitive advantages for petty entrepreneurs.

Again, the quality of the articles submitted and the sophistication of theoretical analysis may already indicate overcoming the division between academia and applied anthropology. We leave the readers to determine this, for this issue and following issues. We continuously seek articles by anthropologically-oriented scholars and practitioners on topics such as general business anthropology theories and methods, marketing, consumer behavior, organization culture, human resources management, cross cultural management etc. Regionally focused contributions are welcome, especially when their findings can be generalized. We encourage practitioners, students, community, and faculty members to submit theoretical articles, case studies, commentaries and reviews. Please send manuscripts, news notes and correspondence to: Dr. Robert Guang Tian, Editor, IJBA, via e-mail to, or (Robert G. Tian, Daming Zhou, and Alfons H. van Marrewijk)


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