Article

Business Anthropology

Marietta L. Baba and Christine Heyes LaBond

in Anthropology

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

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Business refers to an institutional field comprised of privately and publicly owned firms, public organizational entities (e.g., regulatory bodies), and other actors (e.g., consumers) that engage in market-oriented interactions resulting in mutual influence. In the broadest sense, business anthropology encompasses inquiry or practice related to some aspect of the business domain that is grounded in anthropological epistemology, methodology, or substantive knowledge. 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, anthropologists’ research and problem-solving interests in the business domain focused primarily on manufacturing productivity and the contexts of economic growth, and they were shaped by the traditions of other disciplines, such as industrial psychology, through the Human Relations School, a theory of organizational management. 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 marketplace and its attendant activities as worthy subjects of study. At the same time, anthropological epistemology and methods have been assimilated into corporate venues as more anthropologists engage in research or 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 consequence is that anthropological 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 a 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/or providing access to literature reflecting empirical research, practice, and/or theoretical and critical reflection in relation to the business domain.

Article.  13590 words. 

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

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