On April 24, 2018, 74 business anthropologists and students from nine countries met at Wayne State University to discuss the current state and future directions of business anthropology. This specialty—which has experienced substantial growth over the past ten years, with two new journals, an industry conference, and a major initiative at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association in 2017—is marked by both theoretical and practical challenges—and significant opportunities.
Business anthropology has emerged to respond to a growing need, in corporate and government bodies, for a close examination of the behavioral and cognitive influencers in decision making.
The applications have grown with every passing year, from advertising to marketing to product development to governance to mergers and acquisitions to banking, and well beyond. Preparation for careers in these fields is not more than 25 years old, but the demand is growing exponentially. A core purpose of the Business Anthropology Summit has been to frame the agenda for this relatively new discipline, thus making it easier to learn and collaborate within our community, and to initiate new corporate and government collaborations and projects that reflect anthropological perspectives and methods.
The Summit was preceded by the submission of issues statements by the participants, the content analysis of which, as described in Section 2, revealed three overriding themes:
► Practicalities of the work
► Market trends
► Training the next generation of academics and practitioners
An opening plenary featured presentations on each of these three themes by Rita Denny, Robert Morais, and Christina Wasson. After a general discussion, six working groups, randomly composed of all the Summit participants, discussed each of the three themes (two groups per theme). The groups were placed in different spaces and led by a facilitator who focused on the issues and conducted the discussion. After a general discussion before lunch, the working groups continued and then reconvened for a closing discussion of next steps.
With such a wide-ranging discussion, it is difficult to do justice to all of the ideas and insights that emerged. But the most prominent proposals raised by the working groups can be summarized as follows:
► Improved communication with both academic colleagues and business coworkers and clients. We are prepared to work with our colleagues in the academy and in business to strengthen communication channels.
► Substantial changes are needed with regard to how graduate departments train their students in the anthropology of and for business, particularly when students are headed for careers outside anthropology departments. We are prepared to work with training programs on productive enhancements.
► More interchange between academics and practitioners is needed. We need to enrich the forums available for interactions among anthropologists affiliated with academic and business organizations.
► Reaching out to the general public, in terms of promoting Business Anthropology. Increasing the public visibility of the contributions anthropologists make to productive, socially responsible business.
Thanks to Dr. Allen Batteau for putting the report together.