Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: National Association for the Practice of Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: The Political
Secondary Theme: Social movements
This session presents a range of applications in the anthropology of business -- each of which makes use of a classical anthropological or sociological theory applied to a business situation, practice or organization. Classical studies in anthropology have investigated subjects as intriguing and exotic as ritual, taboo, magic, gift exchange, totem worship and so forth. Our session reveals how these classic subjects of investigation are relevant to studies of business today. By finding ritual, magic, gift exchange and so forth in modern business settings our session demonstrates the anthropologist’s unique ability to generalize human behavior from particular ethnographic contexts and relate theory to comparative human domains. This distinction is important, since as Ingold (2008) notes, anthropology and ethnography are often conflated and methods of ethnographic investigation in consumer research are often co-opted by non-anthropologists (Denny and Sunderland 2007; Malefyt 2009). Yet the distinction between anthropology and ethnography is critical for business applications, since as Radcliffe-Brown maintains, “The aim of comparison…is to pass from the particular to the general, from the general to the more general, and ultimately to the universal” (1951: 22). By stressing the generalizable and comparative qualities that anthropological theory bears on business setting, our session shows the value of social theory applied to contemporary human behavior -- beyond ethnographic method --which then turns trenchant “business” issues into insightful and ultimately universal “human” truths.
The papers presented range from discussions on the magical transference of power from Wall Street to Silicon Valley; anthropological theories of culture in the study of Japanese business; to capitalism as a form of gift exchange within For-profit Business Corporations. These papers inform the ways an anthropology of business acts as a theoretical agent of change in the anthropological imagination, as it also recognizes the elements of human resistance, adaptation and resilience applied to business settings across cultural contexts and domains of practice.