Article

Business Anthropology

Marietta L. Baba

in Anthropology

ISBN: 9780199766567
Published online January 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0033
Business Anthropology

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  • Anthropology
  • Human Evolution
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In the broadest sense, business anthropology is inquiry or practice within the business domain that is grounded in anthropological epistemology, methodology, or substantive knowledge, or a combination of these. In the early 20th century, anthropology, as a discipline, was encouraged by American business interests to develop as an empirically based social science that could provide a scientific basis for social welfare. Partially as a result of this influence, American anthropologists’ research and problem-solving interests in the business domain focused primarily on manufacturing productivity, and they were shaped by the traditions of other disciplines, such as industrial psychology, through the Human Relations school, a theory of organizational management that posits a direct relationship between worker satisfaction and productivity. After World War II, anthropological research on industry became more independent intellectually and fragmented into several streams of literature, including neo-Marxian approaches and studies of industrialization in non-Western societies. Since the end of the Cold War, anthropological studies of business have been reinvigorated, as increasing numbers of academic anthropologists have acknowledged the contemporary marketplace and its attendant activities as worthy of serious inquiry. At the same time, anthropological epistemology and methods have been assimilated into corporate venues as more anthropologists become practitioners in the private sector, stimulating self-reflection on the discipline’s relationship with business. As a result, the field has become increasingly complex, with linkages to several other disciplines and traditions. Another result of this involvement is that our disciplinary perspectives gradually have shifted from the mid-20th century view of business as an external and potentially hostile “other” to more varied and nuanced views, including the perspective that business is an institutional field in which anthropologists may hold engaged positions. Because of this evolving situation, the worlds of business are recognized as deserving of our understanding, interpretation, and critical assessment; yet, this dawning awareness brings its own quandaries with respect to positionality and ethics. Accordingly, items have been selected for inclusion here on the basis of three criteria: understanding the context for the historical development of business anthropology as one of the institutional anthropologies; gaining an overview and an in-depth perspective on the major dimensions of the field; and providing access to literature reflecting empirical research and practice conducted by anthropologists in the business domain.

Article.  11417 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology ; Human Evolution ; Medical Anthropology ; Physical Anthropology ; Social and Cultural Anthropology

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