a book review by SIMON ROBERTS, Stripe Partners
Anthro-Vision: A New Way to See in Business and Life
2021, 304 pp, Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
→ Watch Simon Roberts in conversation with Gillian Tett & Donna Flynn
Ulf Hannerz once proposed that “common sense is cultural ‘business as usual’; standard operating procedure, one’s perspective at rest” (127). Gillian Tett’s journalism unsettles perspectives at rest. If there’s one simple message for the general reader in her new book Anthro-Vision it is this: the promise and value of anthropology lies in making visible that which is close to hand but ignored. It offers a means to see the world differently.
There’s also a message for those whose work involves the application of anthropological thinking or ethnography: we should revisit our own assumptions about how we conceive of and communicate our value. The book is a resounding call to arms in a world beset by a ‘tunnel vision’.
What is the basis for Tett’s faith...
by E. GIGI TAYLOR, Luminosity Research
I live in Austin, Texas. Along with breakfast tacos, Willie Nelson, and scorching hot summers, Austin is the home of the international conference known as South by Southwest (SXSW). It’s actually three conferences (Interactive, Music, and Film) rolled out over ten days in March. Much of the Interactive portion is about technology, media, and brands. SXSW brings in close to 300,000 people and is now recognized as the prime national stage to launch new products and brands.
Those of us who have lived in Austin forever lovingly (or not so lovingly) call this colossus “South by So What.” Traffic gets even more snarled and all the restaurants are packed. But having spent a good part of my professional career in advertising, I find the Interactive conference an increasingly fascinating spectacle. But “the most valuable business weekend of the year” is hardly a hive of anthropological thinking.
So I was truly honored—and more than a little surprised—to receive an invitation to speak...
by SHELLY HABECKER Swiss Re
I work in life insurance. No, I’m not an actuary or underwriter—I’m an anthropologist, and it’s a great fit.
I began my career working with refugees in the public and nonprofit sectors, then spent seven years teaching anthropology courses to undergraduates, and I’ll admit that insurance wasn’t on my mind. But now that I’m here the value of my background is clear: Anthropology has taught me to be a listener, a storyteller, and a holistic thinker. I use these skills every day in my job in customer experience on an insurance innovation team.
Another thing is clear: the insurance industry needs anthropologists, even though they might not know it yet. So, if you’re an anthropologist or ethnographer of another stripe, please consider applying for jobs in the insurance industry.
To do that you’ll need to get creative about where you look for employment and how you present your skills. Let me explain.
Insurance Companies Need Anthropologists as Listeners
Insurance companies are brimming...
by SAKARI TAMMINEN, Gemic
These days a wide range of new digital products are being lumped together in the much-hyped category ‘Wearables’—heart-monitoring shirts, shoes that monitor muscle fatigue, smart watches of all sorts. What’s new about these products is their digital characteristics, but what's really interesting about them is that the category itself is actually very old. The essence of wearables lies not in their new digital functionalities, but in the social relationships they mediate and the behaviours they celebrate. They touch on ideas of what it is to be properly ‘human’ and where the boundaries of humanity lie.
Even very basic wearable technologies—clothing, jewelry, a wooden tooth or prosthetic leg—have always been bound up with the art of technique: ideas, behaviours, and materials come together on our bodies so as to mediate our human condition. Each has its own evolving cultural norms: just think of variation across time and culture of tattoos and body piercings, the favorite paper topic for...
A wide range of new digital products lumped together under the category of ‘Wearables’ or ‘Wearable Technology’ raises fundamental questions about the way we think about our individual bodies and the species Homo Sapiens. This paper traces three different relationships to what are called the ‘wearables’ and extends the notion to cover all material technologies that mediate our relations between various embodied practices and the world, and beyond pure ‘hi tech’ products. Therefore, this paper develops a general cultural approach to wearables, informed by empirical examples from the US and China, and ends by mapping valuable design spaces for the next generation of digital technologies that are getting closer to our bodies and our skin, even venturing beneath it....
University of California Davis
This paper examines how ethnographic praxis as a means for driving social change via industry, went from a peripheral, experimental field, to a normalized part of innovation and product development – only to be coopted from within by a new language of power. Since the 1980s anthropologists have used their work to “make the world a better place,” by leveraging their tools of thick description and rich contextual knowledge to drive diversity and change within corporations and through their productions. As ethnography-as-method became separated from the field of Anthropology, it was opened to new collaborations with adjacent fields (from design, to HCI, to psychology, media studies, and so on). This “opening up” had a twofold effect, on the one hand it enabled greater “impact” (or influence) within institutions, but simultaneously subjected the field to cooptation. Recently, the practice of ethnography came to embrace the terminology of User Experience (UX) – though...
ALLEN W. BATTEAU
Wayne State University GLADIS CECILIA VILLEGAS
Universidad de Medellin
Since the 1980s, it has generally been accepted that corporations have cultures, and that corporate culture bears an important, if poorly understood, relationship to corporate performance. Figuring out how to measure, fine-tune, and adjust corporate culture has been a cottage industry within management consulting ever since, employing numerous psychologists, sociologists, management theorists, communication specialists, and occasionally anthropologists. Corporate cultures have been variously characterized as strong, weak, open, closed, flexible, rigid, innovative, traditional, or (more typically) some mélange of all of these. To better understand the relationship between corporate culture and corporate performance, perhaps it would be better to understand culture as a living, breathing entity, not a museum specimen to be examined under laboratory conditions – ethnographically, that is, in a natural rather than artificial environment.
MICHAEL G. POWELL
This paper seeks to broaden the discipline of professional anthropology by considering the role of the anthropologist as a curator and a guide for the mediation of cultural symbols, artifacts and products in and among the organizations we work for or with. It employs two case studies of product curation activities, guided by strategic insights shaped in part by a professional cultural anthropologist. The paper builds on prior discussions and insights within the EPIC community to suggest potential new directions for professional anthropologists to pursue, alongside and/or outside of ethnographic research projects....
Anthropological theory deepens and extends the impact of ethnography, adding significant value to the companies, organizations and communities we work with. Because professionals who use and execute ethnography in business come to the job from varying backgrounds, many ethnographers are seeking to extend their training in theory and research. And when we do engage more deeply with theory, many of us find that the epistemologies that drive research in business contexts are often in tension with anthropological understandings of research, knowledge, data, and evidence. As anthropologists working in a corporate setting, we sometimes struggle to reconcile these tensions and maintain an anthropological perspective in the rush of everyday productivity and work objectives. In this tutorial, participants collectively explored what we saw as foundational theoretical perspectives that, historically, have shaped ethnographic method.
EPIC Profiles Series
by ELIZABETH KAZIUNAS, University of Michigan
What do historical landscapes or tacit knowledge have to do with reimagining the future of shipping or location intelligence services? In linking everyday practices with wider forces of complex organizational systems, Alex Mack argues that thinking anthropologically about infrastructure—as both a technical system and a relational process—can help reveal new directions for design interventions. A Senior Fellow at Pitney Bowes and a member of the EPIC Board, Alex’s work has had significant impact in her organization and far beyond.
Alex recently sat down for an interview to share insights from her career. She reflected on how early ethnographic field work studying ancient urban landscapes as a PhD student helped shape her research sensibilities and worldview. In transitioning from academia to industry, this deeply social way of seeing the world continues to influence her work at Pitney Bowes, both for addressing immediate client needs and in developing strategic...
EPIC Profiles Series
by TAMARA HALE, Effective UI
EPIC2016 Keynote Speaker Eric Weiner is a veteran foreign correspondent and New York Times best selling author.
In an interconnected, technology-driven world, does culture still matter? Can there really be “best practices” to be drawn from the vast range of human experiences? These are some of the questions driving Eric Weiner’s influential writing and thinking.
I spoke with Eric about his career trajectory and the inspiration he has drawn from the discipline of anthropology. His award-winning journalism and critically acclaimed books, The Geography of Bliss, Man Seeks God and The Geography of Genius all use cross-cultural and historical comparison as a strategy to make key concepts intriguing for the general public. After writing his first two books, explains Eric, “I realized that I’ve really been engaging in amateur cultural anthropology.... I believe that culture matters more than we think.”
Eric’s interest in culture, his deep appreciation for cultural differences...
EPIC Profiles Series
by PAUL OTTO
EPIC2016 Keynote Speaker John F. Sherry is the Raymond W. & Kenneth G. Herrick Professor of Marketing in the Mendoza College of Business and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. Join John at EPIC2016!
I caught up with Dr. John F. Sherry, joint professor in Marketing and Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, in late spring, right after exams. John has had a prolific career in ethnography as a practitioner and theorist, with 10 books, over 100 articles, and numerous consulting engagements to his name. He is a collaborative scholar, and quick to point out others’ influence on his work—Sidney Levy, Joel Cohen, William Wilkie, H. Russell Bernard, Marvin Harris, and more.
In addition to his work on brand strategy and consumer behavior (among his many distinctions, John is past president of the Consumer Culture Theory Consortium), John has had “a long term investment in placeways—retail, atmospherics, that kind of thing,” which he says resonates with...
EPIC Profiles Series
by RACHEL C. FLEMING, University of Colorado at Boulder
What do sentiments and ideologies have to do with Wall Street? Karen Ho would argue they are key for understanding and changing Wall Street’s institutional culture that generates and justifies a focus on the short-term. From working in a firm to interviewing workers and studying corporate publications, Karen’s insights into how particular mindsets come to dominate corporations or whole industries—in this case, the culture of liquidity—can help us transition from a culture of shortsightedness to one of creating long-term value.
Karen did not originally aspire to become an anthropologist, but her upbringing shaped her anthropological outlook in ways she realized only after she became one. Her father was a first-generation Taiwanese American doctor and the only OB-GYN in a fifty-mile radius in Covington, Tennessee. Growing up in the South as an Asian American child who didn’t belong clearly in any one group taught her how to think about race,...
EPIC Profiles Series
by FRANCESCA SWAINE, University of Minneapolis
Strike up a conversation with EPIC2016 Conference Chair Bill Beeman and you might be treated to his deep expertise in Iranian politics or pragmatic philosophy...or theater and art history, or smart service systems in product design. He truly is a Renaissance man. Trained as a linguistic anthropologist at Wesleyan University and the University of Chicago, Bill is a distinguished anthropologist, renowned author, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, opera singer, actor, and consultant to industry. A pioneer in establishing the value of ethnography in Industry, he forged a partnership between the Department of Anthropology and the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, co-hosts of EPIC2016.
Pathmaking Ethnography for Transformative Innovation
Bill’s masterful orchestration of art, science and industry are embodied in the conference theme pathmaking. His commitment to pathmaking is based on...