When trying to find effective solutions to business problems, applying insights from the social sciences generally isn’t one of the first things that’s explored. But that certainly doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be. Quite frankly, businesses should prioritize understanding human behaviors, psychology and cultures.
The discipline of social anthropology provides one such method to understand social forces at work. From the Greek ‘study of mankind’, it is a holistic social science that seeks to examine the differences and similarities between human societies by observing a variety of live experiences. Anthropology’s USP is ethnography – a form of participant observation through which practitioners work to observe everyday communal interaction to unpack social constructs and institutions as disparate as gender, kinship, hierarchy and economic transaction. Tracing the connection between these helps to uncover underlying cultural frameworks through which everyday behaviour choices are enacted and interpreted.
Although traditionally focused on non-western contexts, anthropologists today are just as likely to be found working in western societies. Both Google and Intel have in-house anthropology teams, and Microsoft is reportedly the second-largest employer of anthropologists in the world. Anthropologists recently hit the headlines as part of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, where they are playing a vital role working alongside aid agencies to mediate between western and local understanding of health and the body, in order to advise on culturally sensitive interventions.
For a more in-depth introduction to the discipline, an excellent resource is the journal Cultural Anthropology, which moved to become open access to promote wider understanding of the subject. Previous topics covered have included the cultural meaning of branding and counterfeit goods, consumerism and globalization in India, and slang and construction of identity in African American youth culture.
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