Internaitonal Journal of Business Anthropology Vol. 2 (1)

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Business Anthropologists in the Business World:  Our Troops and Our Future (Editorial Commentary)


Anthropology is a discipline that, over the last hundred or so years, has developed a wide array of qualitative techniques for understanding people and their behavior.  For many years, practitioners in the business sector considered these analytic methods not to be respectable and inferior to quantitative, so called, “rigorous scientific” methods.  However, recent organizational studies heavily criticize these positivistic methods (Bate 1994, Alvesson and Svenginson 2008). Business anthropologists all over the world have supported these critics (Aguilera 1996, Ferraro  1998, Jordon 2010, Tian, Lillis, and van Marriewijk 2010). 


Business anthropology is here defined as a practically oriented scholastic field in which business anthropologists apply anthropological theories and methods to identify and solve real business problems in everyday life.  Business anthropologists are all those anthropologists who study the business fields of management, operations, marketing, consumer behavior, organizational culture, human resources management, international business, and so on through anthropological methods, particularly through ethnographic methods, such as participant observation, informal and structured interviews, and other anthropological based research methods (Baba 2006, Tian, Lillis, and van Marrewijk 2010). Business anthropologists are able to play key roles in the business world, by helping corporations develop culturally appropriate ways of doing business with suppliers, business partners, or customers (van Marriewijk 2010, Tian 2010, ).


A prominent example is the role of business anthropologists in consumer industry.  In recent decades rapid technological developments have stimulated the growth of complex organizations in consumer industries.  These complex organizations face the challenge of accessing fragmented consumer markets as traditional ways of doing business have become less effective. They must continuously improve their business models as well as consciously modify their existing products and services to satisfy their customers.  Consequently, interactions between producers and consumers have become even more important than ever before to be profitable.  These changing conditions have created many opportunities for anthropologists who enable their knowledge and methods to play a distinctive role in today’s business world.


The anthropological perspective on business distinguishes itself from other perspectives as a method of fieldwork activity (the “doing” of ethnographic fieldwork by means of participant observation), as a paradigm (the “thinking” using anthropological concepts) and as a narrative style (the “writing”) (Bate 1997). In line with Bate, Dr. Ann Jordan stresses that business anthropologists tap various sources of information by getting to know the people within the organization (Jordan 2003 and 2010). This emic perspective is central in the anthropological approach. Furthermore, business anthropologists take a “holistic” approach, which is to study human behavior within the social, historical, spatial and economical context. In this way, micro studies of employees and customers are connected to meso and macro societal levels. Finally, they assume the social construction of cultural differences which can be used strategically in cultural collaboration in strategic alliances and mergers (van Marrewijk 2009). 


Business anthropologists work in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations (Jordan 2003, Pant and Alberti 1997). Based on our own personal and professional networks we estimate that in today’s world there are several thousand well-qualified anthropologists working in business organizations of one sort or another. Increasingly, business anthropology is an appropriate approach for both scholars and businessmen to understand why and how people around them do as they do, why and how organizations function in the ways that they function, as well as why and how consumers choose to purchase the goods and services that they prefer (Tian 2010, van Marrewijk 2010). As a consequence of this growing interest, business anthropologists are employed as faculty members in universities and business schools from Asia to America, from Europe to Africa.  


To support the growing interest in business anthropologists an academic journal is needed. Dozens of existing academic journals are devoted to publishing various aspects of scholastic works by anthropologists in different fields all over the world. Most of these journals are concerned with the traditional studies by anthropologists, such as: cultures, ethnicity, kinship and economic organization, political relations, ethnic mobilizations, networks, magic, ritual, symbolism, and so on. Some of these journals are prepared to consider articles by anthropologists on newer themes in the production and consumption of media forms, such as the Internet and so forth. However, few journals publish articles of business anthropology. Therefore, the International Journal of Business Anthropology offer an academic platform to business anthropologists.  The authorship and readership that make up our troops are included, but not limited to, all scholars and practitioners in different countries who use anthropological theories and methods to study and to solve real business problems in the real business world.


Our troops are growing along with the growth of the business world; our future is closely connected with the future development of business.  We are very excited about the growth of business anthropology as a field of study, we are very positive that this growing field will be employing more and more anthropologists participating in the future.  Technological advances and globalization not only change the way people do business but also the way they think about business.  Business leaders must rethink what they can offer to their customers, how they can offer, with whom they will collaborate for new products and service, what they say, what they do, and how their promises will be viewed.  Business anthropologists are well positioned to provide all these kinds of insights through their unique methods and unique contributions.  We believe that in our globalized world, there is a great need for anthropologists in business consulting, organizational behavior, human resources management, competitive intelligence, globalization, product design and development, marketing, and consumer behavior studies.  It is under these new trends and new environments we created this journal to facilitate the growth of business anthropology.


In this new issue we selected seven articles from a large pool of submissions to publish.  Dr. Brian Moeran displays a considerable knowledge about the processes of cultural production, exploring and delineating, the effects of a range of constraints on what he termed as “creativity.” Dr. Moeran explores the concept of creativity and its production in the context of several “creative industries”, include advertising, fashion, and craft production. He argues that the concept of creativity now has a certain cache, given the rise of “creative hubs” and “creative cities”, but is taken for granted by actors in creative industries as well as by social scientists studying these industries. Framed in this way, Dr. Moeran’s paper is relevant and promises to be useful for mapping out a number of relationships that will help to develop a sharper understanding of the concept of creativity and cultural production.

Dr. Alf Walle probes the role that business anthropologists can have in facilitating the intellectual rights of indigenous people.  He argues that indigenous people have something of value (heritage) that they want to protect and at the same time exploit, but the current typical legal system of intellectual property rights affords them no protection, no property rights in their own heritage. However, others are financially profiting from this heritage, creating an unjust situation. Dr. Walle suggests that anthropologists working in the capacity of business anthropologists can have a substantial role in ensuring the indigenous peoples’ systems of intellectual ownership are respected and considered side by side with mainstream intellectual regimes. 


Dr. Hsain Ilahiane explores ways in which urban micro-entrepreneurs use the mobile phone as a tool to organize a newly networked work life.  He argues that mobile phone use expands the productive opportunities of certain types of activities by enhancing social networks, reducing risks associated with employment seeking, and enabling bricolage or freelance service work, leading to higher incomes.  Dr. Ilahiane reveals how the use of mobile phones for bricolage jobs begins to transform, rather than simply augment and reinforce, the social and economic ties of micro-entrepreneurs.  He looks at ways in which the mobile phone is distinct from traditional technologies. Dr. Ilahiane’s findings highlight new approaches to think about designing innovative mobile applications to serve the needs of micro-entrepreneurs in the developing world. 


In their article “Cross-Cultural Personality and Values: A Case Study of Mongolian Vs Taiwanese Doctors and Nurses”, Dr. Tain-Fung Wu, Munkh-Ulzii Batmunkh, and Alex S. R. Lai appraise various differences in cross-cultural attributes concerning personality and values between the North and the Southeast Asians. They provide an empirical exploration of Taiwanese and Mongolian respondents working in medical contexts through variables of personality and culture.  They contend that personality and value have been considered significant indicators in predicting personal behavior. Their findings make the contribution to measuring personality and values within the perspective of cross-culture differences.


Xingying Zhou and Liangmei Yu provide a case study on Chinese immigrant in the US labor market.  They take the immigrants from Guantou Town, Fujian Province, China, as the target group to explore how they acculturate in the American labor market. The immigrants under their discussion have a strong desire to join the main stream society of America for a better life, however, with a number of limitations, in particular, inadequate understanding of the target culture, low competence of the target language, low level of education, and wrong life expectation, they tend to adopt the strategies of separation or marginalization in the process of acculturation, thus resulting in great stress and dissatisfaction.


Dr. Fernanda Duarte uses the concept of organizational culture to understand the culture of corporate social responsibility in a Brazilian Mining Corporation and provides a theoretical underpinning followed by a detailed description of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in practice. Dr. Duarte, based on an exploratory study carried out in 2008 on a Brazilian mining corporation, contributes to the field of business anthropology by applying the notion of organizational culture within the specific context of CSR. She argues that organizations that consciously embrace values such as social justice and environmental sustainability develop rich “CSR cultures” over time with specific structures, practices and symbolic manifestations. This type of organizational culture shapes the company’s identity, purpose and outlook, generating unique histories and meanings.  Dr. Duarte enhances our understanding of how CSR is manifested culturally and the analysis can be extended to other types of companies, both those that succeed and fail at CSR.


Dr. Chen  Gang’s paper reviews major theories, approaches and trends in development anthropology related to eco-cultural tourism. He thrashes out the development process of Mosuo ethnic eco-cultural tourism at Lugu Lake in Southwest China since the 1980s and interprets this process.  Dr. Chen apprizes the achievements made by the local people in tourism and examines the problems faced by Mosuo eco-cultural tourism in terms of community participation. He summarizes the lessons can be learned for sustainable development of eco-cultural tourism,  argues that the role of the government played in building local capacity is essential and suggests that a community integration approach be adopted to arose local people’s enthusiasm in participating in tourism development for a better share of the profits. 


Once more, the quality of the articles submitted and the sophistication of theoretical analysis may already indicate overcoming the division between academia and applied anthropology cross culturally. We leave the readers to determine this, for this issue and following issues. We continuously seek articles by anthropologically oriented scholars and practitioners on topics such as general business anthropology theories and methods, marketing, consumer behavior, organization culture, human resources management, cross cultural management etc. Regionally focused contributions are welcome, especially when their findings can be generalized. We encourage practitioners, professionals, business community leaders, and faculty members to submit theoretical articles, case studies, commentaries and reviews. Please send manuscripts, news notes and correspondence to: Dr. Robert Guang Tian, Editor, IJBA, via e-mail to, or (Robert G. Tian, Daming Zhou, and Alfons H. van Marrewijk)

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