What can anthropologists do to help small, immigrant-owned, businesses?

Hey, OAC anthropologists!


So, I found myself tooling around the Jacksonville Farmers Market yesterday. In the process, I stumbled across a Cambodian family, selling alien-looking fruits covered in red tentacles. (No joke! I have photos.) As I purchased one, my inner business anthropologist immediately noted two hitches that probably hurt their business. See what I mean, at http://ashkuff.com/blog/?p=724


My question for OAC’s anthropologists: what can anthropologists do to help small, immigrant-owned, businesses? Anything from your basic feelings, to specific experience-informed insights, are all welcome!


--- Ashkuff

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That's rambutan from Southeast Asia. Business anthropologists can definitely teach them about appropriate marketing and management.  For instance, if the target customers are rich, they have to know their customers' taste and lifestyle.  A Cambodian restaurant must not look like the one in Chinatown.  Another thing, servitude maybe acceptable in Asia, but not here in the US.  Immigrant owners should be trained about US labor laws and the rights of their workers.   

The Role of Anthropology in Retailing: An Authoethnographic Case Study


David E. McClendon Sr.

McClendon Enterprises



As demonstrated by examples from my family business, the techniques of anthropology have a significant role in retailing.  The research methods of anthropology, for example, facilitate qualitative observations, formal or informal interviews, and dialogues.  The “life story approach” can be particularly useful.  Many of these techniques can be usefully applied by lay people with minimal formal training in the field. In this article, by using life story and authoethnograhpy approaches, I share several stories with the readers of how I and my family used anthropology in the different businesses in which I was involved. Those who share the same experience with me may learn how things they see daily in their business operations can be studied to be better developed and managed through observations, informal interviews or dialogues with customers, life story approach, and other anthropological ways of study one’s own business. Yet I am not a professionally trained anthropologist but I had been exposed to the business anthropology through my business professors and the authors of retail business anthropologists. Readers can read these stories with an anthropological way of thinking to see business in a different perspective.




Anthropology studies people, their behavior, and cultures using methods such as participant observation, informal interviews, dialogues with informants, and the analysis of “life stories.”   Having one foot planted in social analysis and the other within the strategic sciences, business anthropologists are emerging as a cross disciplinary professionals who facilitate understanding options from a cross cultural perspective.  Ideally, these professionals have training in expertise in the theoretical social sciences and within business, policy science, etc.  (Jordan 2003, Tian et al. 2010).

     Some business anthropologists, like Dr. Gordon Bronitsky, employ their skills to manage their own businesses (Bronitsky 2010). Many other individuals, like myself, in contrast, who have not been trained in anthropology, may also use anthropological principles in a strategic manner consciously or unconsciously. I, as an example, was first exposed to business anthropology as an undergraduate at a small liberal arts college in South Carolina.  I became aware of some anthropological works on retailing businesses, such as Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Dr. Paco Underhill (1999), Experiential Retailing: Concepts and Strategies that Sell (Kim et al., 2007), through my professor who is a business anthropologist. The business anthropology work done by Underhill and other scholars helped me realize that much of what I had observed during the day to day operations of the businesses could be used to improve customer service and profitability. This experience has inspired me to gain a basic knowledge about business anthropology and how it can be used as a strategic tool.

     Family business has been a topic for applied anthropologists to study for many years (Jones 2005, Poutziouris et al. 2006, Steward 2003), and the life story approach is one of effective research methods that have been used by anthropologists to do ethnographic studies (Dossa 1994), an approach that I am going to follow in this article.  In addition, anthropologists have developed a new approach termed as autoethnogrpahy to do their research (Chang, 2008). Authoethnographic study is the process of conducting and producing an ethnographic study through the understanding of self, other, and culture. It studies the role of the self in research, and the relationship of self to culture.

     There are a variety of techniques involved in authoethnographic for gathering data on the self, such as from diaries to culture grams, from recalling life stories to interviews with others.  In this autoethnographic study, I will use my own life experience and stories as a tool to explore my own perspectives and to arrive at a deeper understanding of others in retail business world. Below I will first share some background information about my family business history and then will demonstrate how I learned doing business through our family business history and my own life experiences and stories. I hope the readers, after reading this article, will agree with me that the small family run businesses can be benefited from anthropology and that business anthropologists are able to help small family business owners to better understand customers and employees for better business outcomes and profitability. 





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