Friday, April 15, 2011

General Business Anthropology, A Book Review by Dr. Mahesh Ranjan Debata

General Business Anthropology
Robert Guang Tian, Michael P. Lillis, and Alfons van Marrewijk
Miami, FL
pp.612 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 978-0-9828434-0-6
Key Words: Business Anthropology, Consumer Behavior, Ethnography, Organizational Culture, Product Design,
Anthropology, the study of humanity and human behavior, has evolved more of an applied study in the modern era by developing a wide array of qualitative tools and techniques in order to understand people and their behaviour, and thus can aptly be called as the most scientific among all branches of humanities. Business anthropology, an important segment of anthropology, is a domain of liberal arts which offers employers/businesspersons the skills such as oral communication, written communication, interpersonal skills, problem-solving, and critical thinking, so that many critical problems can be sorted out. It is in this context, the textbook of General Business Anthropology by Robert Guang Tian, Michael P. Lillis, and Alfons van Marrewijk, gives a thorough analysis of a subject like business anthropology, its contributions towards the society in general and the business world and the policy makers in particular. This well composed book consists of as many as 13 chapters covering almost all the issues related to business anthropology, besides providing key and basic information about business anthropology as well as synthesizing research on a particular prominent theme in business anthropology.


At the outset, the authors give a broad view of business anthropology, which is a rapidly growing branch of applied anthropology characterized by a qualitative methodology and cultural sensitivity. The evolution of this important subject, its growth, downfall and resurgence are elaborated in such a manner that the reader will be able to know the historical details of business anthropology. Though traditionally, business administrators banked heavily upon hard scientific methods in their business management and operation practice, in the recent era, being inspired by the qualitative tools of social and cultural anthropology, they apply more qualitative methods, such as ethnography and participant observation. Now the methods of Business anthropology offer global perspectives and are contemporary in nature. Ethnography is associated with the anthropological tradition and has been increasingly used by researchers in the domain of social sciences.

Ethnography, which is distinct from other applied qualitative and quantitative research techniques, is dealt in details in Chapter 6. Ethnographic research, the authors argue, can be widely applied in the business world and resolve business problems. As one of the basic, and perhaps the best tool for innovation, it provides limitless opportunity for continuous product improvements. It is these areas that the book tries to delve into, and carries the large mandate it sets for itself well. While talking about participant observation, one of the important tools business anthropology uses at regular basis, takes place when a person attempts to function within a social situation in order to intuitively understand what is going on. In addition, the seminal contributions that anthropologists have made and should make within the business world are also fairly discussed.

A couple of chapters have been devoted to the issue of culture, which is a vital cog in the wheel of society. The cultural aspects dealt with it are relative to the fast changing world and has significant effects on cultural changes.  The authors argue that culture is deeply rooted in the life of organizational members, it exerts tremendous influence on a variety of day-to-day activities; they opine that culture can have a profound impact on organizational performance. From a practical standpoint, building an awareness of both visible and invisible manifestations of culture is an important first step in determining how to manage people. Organizational culture has been the focus of many change and intervention programs in corporations, where cultural change strategies have been applied with varying success. Thus, the role and position of anthropologists in cultural change programs is crucial in achieving positive results.

Companies are always on the lookout to increase sales, increase their market share and increase their profits. One of the ways to accomplish all this is to improve their products. Marketing, consumer behavior and product design are the essential ingredients of any business program today. The authors have dilated upon these three critical issues in separate chapters (from chapter 7 to chapter 9). Anthropology,  as  a  social  science,  emphasizes  individual behavior within cultural contexts  and with  reference  to shared  values, beliefs and values. Anthropological methods are widely employed in international, cross-cultural and social marketing. Anthropology is positioned to create actionable recommendations and interpretations regarding target markets by accumulating and further processing detailed qualitative information and interpreting this evidence with culturally relevant insights and theories. Anthropology sheds light on consumer behavior.

Anthropological and qualitative akin to it techniques provide ecient ways to investigate why consumers respond in the way they do. The development of new products is critical. Design strategies involve multidisciplinary knowledge and collaboration.  The challenges in today’s design industry provide good opportunities for anthropologists. A solitary chapter (Chapter 12) is devoted to entrepreneurship, which plays an increasingly important role in business and entrepreneurs are being dubbed as a major force to reckon with as far as the issues of innovation and change are concerned.    Anthropological   studies of entrepreneurship,   although relatively new, are making a significant contribution to anthropology,   business, policy science, leadership and economic   development. The unique perspectives and research methodologies of anthropologists, the authors argue, provide reliable and eective ways to study the process of entrepreneurship.

Since 1980s, the world has undergone spectacular changes due to technology advancement and an exponential increase in international travel and communication. International business provides profound opportunities for anthropologists with cultural sensitivity coupled with a strategic focus. The cultural implications of these transformations have compelled anthropologists to play their part, particularly during turbulent times. During this era of modernization, two vital issues competitive intelligence and knowledge management have assumed much significance. Competitive intelligence, which is a combination of secondary research and interviewing knowledgeable informants, have led to a better and thorough understanding of the various links and knowledge sources.  The authors have given a clarion call to business leaders and strategists to pay more attention to knowledge management, besides underscoring the need for the application of theories and methods of anthropology in the fields of competitive intelligence and knowledge management.

At the end, giving a discourse on business education and the future of business anthropology, the authors have concluded that while anthropology has made significant contributions to business world, they have not been as widely embraced by business. In an era when business executives increasingly view qualitative methods as legitimate, the authors expect that there will be a growing demand for business anthropologists from all kinds of business organizations. At large, human factors have been taken into account and a continuous research has been focused for the growth of business anthropology.

Since the authors of this book have presented useful information from various national and international sources, this book is one of the finest volumes available until date on business anthropology for a wide audience. This well documented volume would definitely cater to the needs of not only the policy makers, but also the students, researchers and academics working on business anthropology. The authors have done commendable job in bringing out this volume, particularly in the field of still neglected business anthropology studies.  We should work together to strengthen the study of business anthropology in the contemporary world given the importance of the subject.
Reviewed by Dr. Mahesh Ranjan Debata, Assistant Professor, Central Asian Studies Program, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India – 110067.


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