You are on page 1of 3

2 PRACTICING ANTHROPOLOGY Vol. 21, No.

4, Fall 1999

PRACTICING ANTHROPOLOGY IN
BUSINESS ORGANIZATIONS
By Tomoko Hamada to exemplify the practice of business
anthropology. To achieve this goal, we

T oday more than half of new Ph.D.s


in anthropology in the United
have decided to use case studies, in the
area of multicultural organization
States find nonacademic jobs outside of studies. This volume's contributing
universities. An increasing number of authors are veteran-anthropologists
anthropologists are working in the who have been working in or with
private business sector. Many well- business firms. They will describe
established programs are training what organizational domains are
students for nonacademic careers in especially open for the further involve-
applied anthropology. A newly-minted ment of applied anthropologists, and
Ph.D. in anthropology should be able to which tool-kits are useful for under-
present his or her competence in a taking the practice of business
language that is comprehensible to non- anthropology.
anthropologist-business people and the The first article by Richard Reeves-
general public. And yet, anthropology is Ellington delineates a consulting job he
hardly a household term, nor is it took for Rhodopski Kilim, a carpet
included in the lexicon of everyday manufacturer, in Bulgaria in the mid-
business. While most people can tell 1990s. This company faced grave
something about what an accountant challenges in terms of market competi-
could do for a business firm, few tion, the loss of government support and
nonanthropologists can articulate the the collapse of the national economy.
The firm began to seek international
expertise that an anthropologist may Tomoko Hamada
bring to the world of business. The markets for expansion. At this juncture
value of business anthropology has of organizational development, Reeves-
been grossly underrecognized and Ellington created a three-tier system of
underpublicized, in spite of the fact that collective culture learning. Based on Anthropologist Ann Jordan has been
industrial anthropologists have been ethnographic and questionnaire surveys, involved in an interdisciplinary project
studying business for more than sixty this Bulgarian manufacturer could on organization transformation that
years, since its beginning in the 1930s. analyze, synthesize, and share the local involves new team concepts and
This issue of Practicing Anthropology members' understandings of their own organizational restructuring. Despite
addresses these concerns held by a tradition and prescriptive values. They the popularity of the work team
group of business anthropologists. We then learned what value systems their structure, there are many barriers to
believe that we can make significant extended international customer chains its successful implementation. Jordan
contributions in this area, if more expect from their service. The next step delineates specific contributions that
applied anthropologists can translate the for them was to develop shared value an anthropological approach can
language of ideational and academic systems that can work for all. This case make as managers attempt to under-
anthropology into the language of study illuminates the usefulness of stand and facilitate rapid organiza-
everyday business practice. The systematic understanding of organiza- tional change.
language of industry and trade empha- tional culture, when the leader needs to Mary Yoko Brannen and W. Mark
sizes practical application, effective assess the firm's collective strength and Fruin advocate ethnographic approaches
time-management, task-accomplish- weakness and to devise culturally- to understanding the effects of changing
ment, and result-orientation. In short, appropriate adaptive strategies for cultural contexts on technology transfer,
business people are interested in transformation. work organization, and individuals'
empirical and specific problem solving, In an attempt to remain competitive, assumptions regarding work. They note
because they do have problems to solve, many companies have turned to a team- that the growing presence of multina-
rather quickly. based structure for intra-organizational tional enterprises has brought forth a
Having recognized the nature of our cooperation. Currently about half of the plethora of intra-organizational issues.
audience, the objective here is to Fortune 1,000 companies in the United Cultural alienation is one such issue that
elucidate our professional skills and States are trying teams in pilot settings. may well prove to be one of the most
Vol. 21, No.4, Fall 1999 PRACTICING ANTHROPOLOGY 3

enduring byproducts of globalization. body of literature, that at times they These articles collectively character-
Cultural alienation has emerged as a seem unalterably opposed. If left ize one unifying theme of anthropologi-
salient issue of the multicultural unresolved, intercultural ignorance and cal investigation, that is to examine in
workplace, where peoples with very misunderstandings inhibit the smooth detail the lived experience of peoples, to
different values, experiences, and functioning of a joint venture and depict previously-hidden concerns,
worldviews are brought together deprive it of valuable input from every ideologies, feelings and views. Anthro-
through the immediacy and conve-
nience of modem transportation,
telecommunications, and global
information systems.
Diversity in business organization is
a growing concern of business manage-
"We believe that we can make significant contributions
ment and labor, because culture could
become a hotbed of differences, with
in this area, if more applied anthropologists can translate
pathological symptoms such as blam-
ing, harassment, alienation, stress, and the language of ideational and academic anthropology
sabotage. Anthropologists are particu-
larly trained to bridge perception gaps into the language of everyday business practice. ' ,
and emotional schism among organi-
zational members. According to
Rosenberger, one of the anthropologist's
most important contributions lies in the member of the organization. Misunder- pologists are trained to learn the
skills of eliciting the sincere thoughts standings occur not only in situations language and culture of other people
and everyday behavior of various involving subordinates responding (or and to understand and appreciate
people at different locations in the not responding) to their superiors, but alternative ways of life. Most anthro-
organization. Rosenberger has been also among managers of equal status. pologists possess at least one in-depth,
investigating the meanings of work that Serrie's strategy is to deepen the area-specific or language-specific,
are perceived differently by female seminar participants' understanding of expertise about a people other than their
workers in Korea and Japan. As the other system, so that they will be own. This in-depth knowledge about
anthropologists participate in activi- able to reflect on their own institutional another culture encourages self reflec-
ties along with workers they are history and behavioral patterns, from tion, and guards them against forming a
studying, they gain insight into the perspective of the others. This quick judgement based on one's
people's interactions and behavior. exercise diminishes ethnocentrism common sense. They are aware of the
Anthropological methods such as in- and opens new paths of cultural fact that their way of looking at the
depth interviewing, informal conversa- negotiation. world is not necessarily a natural or
tions and focus groups bring people's Anthropological analysis can supply superior way. Instead of testing a
special spontaneous expressions to the information about the manner in which preconceived hypothesis formed by the
surface. people operationalize certain projects or researcher, ethnographic inquiry seeks
According to Hendrick Serrie, policy changes at local levels. In to discover perspectives held by the
leadership in a multicultural work essence, it reveals how things really are others. Anthropologists are skilled
organization is another important being done, what effects they are having fieldworkers, and they use open-ended,
business domain that begs for anthropo- on people-and how they could be done naturalistic inquiry methods and
logical insight. Multicultural leadership better. The goal is not worker control, inductive reasoning to understand local
is one of the most difficult challenges but understanding of the personal perspectives. Instead of giving question-
for managers and supervisors who face experiences and problems that affect naires, ethnographers follow people
diverse workforce, and potential cost of worker motivation. In eliciting around, observe team meetings,
leadership failure is quite extensive. workers' perceptions of their every- participate in activities, ask open-ended
Serrie describes a particular leadership day realities, anthropological research questions, and listen to ideas and
training program that he has organized goes beyond the official corporate opinions expressed in formal and
for American joint ventures in the culture into the "culture of work." informal settings. They analyze the
People's Republic of China. According People working within any corporation material culture, communication styles,
to this business anthropologist, Chinese mesh their individual and social time allocations and spatial dimensions
and Americans have acquired such realities with the demands of their job of organizational life. They examine the
contrasting sets of cultural understand- and corporate culture. In this process, most mundane, everyday routines of
ings about leadership, each set backed workers create their own set of behav- organizational life, and pay attention to
by an impressive history, tradition, and iors and beliefs. the people's life within and outside the
4 PRACTICING ANTHROPOLOGY Vol. 21, No.4, Fall 1999

organization. They try to see linkages culturally appropriate strategies to work Perspectives for Contemporary
and patterns among pieces of informa- with multi-ethnic, multinational, Practice. Boston: Allyn and Bacon
tion; between the unit and the whole; multicultural groups of workers, (In Press).
and between different sets and levels of managers, staff, customers, partners,
analyses, in order to construct the world suppliers, clients, and competitors. We Giovannini, Maureen J. and Lynne
views held by local peoples, which are need a new type of organizational M.H. Rosansky (Editors)
different from their own. leaders who understand and promote 1990 Anthropology and Management
Inductive reasoning and comparative cultural diversity. We urge that more Consulting: Forging a New Alliance.
analysis of local, multiple, viewpoints anthropologists get involved in business NAPA Bulletin, No.9 Arlington,
help them interpret deeper structural organization, and that more business VA: American Anthropological
and cultural reasons. Apparently simple people become anthropologically Association.
organizational phenomena such as the competent. Business organization is one
format of a quality control meeting or of the most significant institutions in the Hamada, Tomoko and Ann Jordan
the sales manual are in fact interpreted contemporary society. It is an urgent (Editors)
differently by different members. task for anthropologists to understand 1990 Cross-Cultural Management and
lnductive reasoning helps explain why and improve the systemic nature of this Organizational Culture. Studies in
things remain the way they are, despite institution, both from within and Third World Societies, Volume 42.
sincere managerial efforts to entice outside. Williamsburg, VA: College of
changes. William and Mary.
Ethnographic findings often reveal Tomoko Hamada is Margaret Hamilton
the current distribution of knowledge in Professor ofAnthropology at the Hamada, Tomoko and Willis Sibley
organization, and point out cognitive College of William and Mary. Her (Editors)
gaps, omissions, misrepresentations, research interests include anthropology 1994 Anthropological Perspectives on
and dissonance at various loci. Ethno- of work organization and identity Organizational Culture. New York:
graphic investigation excavates previ- politics at work places. She has worked University Press of America.
ously hidden dimensions and relations in various parts of the world including
among organizational phenomena, Japan, South Africa, China, and the Hamada, Tomoko, (Editor)
ideologies, memories, fears, and United States. She holds degrees from 1998 The Anthropology of Business
aspirations. It clarifies alternative the University of California, Berkeley .Organization, A Special Volume of
possibilities of decision or action, that (Ph.D.), Keio University (M.A.), and the Anthropology of Work Review,
have not been officially addressed. This Vassar College (B.A.). Her publications Vol XVIII, Numbers 2 & 3, Winter &
tends to produce more relational and include American Enterprise in Japan Spring.
multifarious decision-making process, (1991), Cross-Cultural Management
and provides opportunities for mutual and Organizational Culture (with Ann Hofstede, Geert
sense-making activities At the least, Jordan 1991) and Anthropological 1997 Culture's Consequences: Interna-
anthropological reports trigger self- Perspectives on Organizational Culture tional Differences in Work-Related
reflection and stimulate dialogues (with Will Sibley, 1994). She may be Issues. Newbury Park, CA: Sage
among stakeholders. The acquired reached at <thamad@facstaff.wm.edu>. Publications.
knowledge about alternative perspec- 1997 Cultures and Organizations:
tives tends to renew emotional energy Further Readings in Business Software of the Mind, Intercultural
flows, and invigorate organizational Anthropology Cooperation and Its Importance for
creativity. Survival. New York: McGraw Hill.
Most business problems are people
Baba, Marietta L.
problems, and most people issues Jordan, Ann T. (Editor)
1986 Business and Industrial Anthro-
involve cultural mediation. Anthro- 1997 Practicing Anthropology in
pology: An Overview. NAPA Bulletin
pologists are organizational bridge- Corporate America: Consulting on
No.2. Washington, D.C.: American
makers and cultural translators. They Anthropological Association. Organizational Culture. NAPA
are trained to resolve emotional Bulletin 14. Arlington, VA: American
embroilment and conflicts between Dundes, Alan and Carl P. Pagter Anthropological Association.
groups. They are trained to disassemble 1992 Work Hard and You Shall be
the 'we-versus-they' bifurcation, and to Miller, Daniel
Rewarded: Urban Folklorefrom the
use hidden meanings and new Paper Work Empire. Detroit, MI: 1997 Capitalism: An Ethnographic
metaphors for organizational transfor- Wayne State University Press. Approach. London: Berg Publishing.
mation. 1998 A Theory of Shopping. Ithaca, NY:
Business firms that develop anthro- Cornell University Press . •
Ervin, Alexander M.
pological skills can successfully create 2000 Applied Anthropology: Tools and