Handbook of Anthropology in Business

Edited by Rita Denny and Patricia Sunderland. 2014. Left Coast Press, Inc.: Walnut Creek, California.

Design researchers in professional practice regularly find themselves applying anthropological principals and techniques.  Whether they have formal training in anthropology or have picked up their knowledge of the field and the tools anthropologists use as needed for particular projects, design researchers will benefit from reviewing the material Denny and Sunderland have gathered and edited.

The timing for this book is good.  As the editors state in their Introduction, “Anthropology in business is a matrix of multiple endeavors that on the one hand has existed for a very long time and on the other is just coming into view.”

Denny and Sunderland have organized the work of 65 authors with diverse backgrounds into 43 chapters and introduce each section of chapters themselves.  Some authors are academics, but most seem to have some experience with applied research.  Chapters that will be particularly interesting to design researcher readers include “Design Ethnography, Public Policy and Public Service:  Rendering Collective Issues Doable at a Human Scale” by Lucy Kimball, “Work Practice Studies as Anthropology,” written by Melissa Cefkin, “How ‘the User’ Frames What Designers See:  What Cultural Analysis Does to Change the Frame,” authored by Megan Neese, and “An Anthropology of the Senses:  Tracing the Future of Sensory Marketing in Brand Rituals,” by Timothy Malefyt. 

The editors aptly describe the structure of the text: “we have organized chapters that highlight large social and historical dynamics in the first section: Dynamics of Tension, Forces of Change. We move to a closer-in view of the kinds of disciplinary, theoretical, and methodological boundaries that have been and are being breached and blurred in the mixing of anthropology and business in the second section: Boundaries Breached and Blurred. The third section, Plying the Trade, consists of chapters grounded by case studies which illustrate in greater detail the kinds of work being done, and the methodological and analytic frameworks applied. The Energy of Memes, the fourth section, brings the focus back to culturally salient ideas and practices that have been taken up and circulated at the intersections of anthropology and business. The final section, Muses for Engagement, is about the sources of inspiration and motivation that keep people able and willing to work at the intersection of anthropology and business.”

Design researchers in practice will gain from perusing this text; the insights it provides on anthropology’s core concerns and methods are extremely useful for framing and conducting design-related investigations.