by Allen W. Batteau, Wayne State University, & Robert J. Morais, Weinman Schnee Morais, Inc.
Ethnography is at a crossroads. A methodology that was once the exclusive preserve of anthropologists, with its precursors found among a few colonial administrators, intrepid explorers, Indian agents, and their academic advisors, and, at least in the eyes of anthropologists, “owned” by anthropology, has in the past fifty years been embraced by numerous academic disciplines including sociology, education research, design research, and management studies. The founding and ten-year growth of the EPIC conference is recognition within numerous quarters that ethnography matters. Central to EPIC is “the view that theory and practice inform one another and that the integration of rigorous methods and theory from multiple disciplines creates transformative value for businesses.”
Overlapping with ethnography’s evolution, during the last several decades, the application of anthropology in business has gained increasing recognition; although, as Sarah J. S. Wilner (2014) demonstrates, depictions of anthropology in non-academic media are more exotic than accurate. Nonetheless, in the popular press with articles such as “Anthropology, Inc.” (The Atlantic), “Bill Gates as Anthropologist” (New York Times 2005, commenting on an article in Fortune Small Business, “Pigmy Hunters”) or “An Anthropologist Walks into a Bar” (Harvard Business Review), there is a growing recognition that anthropology is no longer confined to the study of indigenous peoples, but rather has a clear and important role to play in contemporary industrial societies as a tool for advancing commercial enterprises. What was once an academic specialism guided by the patrimonial hierarchies of the academic world is now out in the marketplace and the public square, with numerous research professionals identifying themselves as anthropologists or ethnographers. The fact that there are no licensing standards for anthropologists or ethnographers (such as exist for physicians and attorneys), along with apparent marketplace demand, suggests that this proliferation will continue. (gehiago…)