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Anthropology and Business

What Anthropology Can Do for Your Organization

You may know your clients, but do you know the stories behind them?

Your goal is to deliver the best possible user experience, building your brand and your profit as they grow to trust that you can best meet their unique needs. Mixing ethnography, empathy building, direct communication, and secondary research, anthropology provides a rich explanation of the behaviors, desires, and unmet needs of your clients, employees, and stakeholders. This deep knowledge creates indispensably products and services that distinguish you from your competitors.

Anthropologists have the unique ability to set aside biases and objectively represent the viewpoint of the customer. Holistically trained, anthropologists work across the silos often created within marketing, R&D, and decision making chains, and ensure the voice of the everyday user is present throughout the design and delivery process.

Common anthropological skills include:

  • Approaching problems from multiple perspectives while withholding common biases
  • Researching across cultures and within multicultural groups
  • Trend analysis and identification of patterns in consumer behaviors
  • Understanding consumer motivations and unmet needs
  • Facilitating empathy based, user-centric design research
  • Developing, coordinating, implementing, and analyzing key research methodologies (e.g., focus groups, co-creation, surveys, interviews, in-depth ethnographic studies)
  • Communicating accurate, accessible, and actionable findings and recommendations to stakeholders and decision makers

Anthropologists also apply their skills to understanding organizational culture and improving work processes and productivity.

Studying your "insides" means streamlined processes, healthier work environments, increased creativity, and happier and more productive employees. Better performance creates better products and services, decreased costs, increased profits, and creates many other benefits for your people, brand, and bottom line.


Where We're Working In Memphis and Beyond 

Dr. Robert Connolly (second from right) with Electrolux Team Members

Faculty member Dr. Robert Connolly (second from right) with staff from Electrolux, AmeriCorps, and the Westwood Neighborhood Association.

From Microsoft to Proctor and Gamble and even Words with Friends developer Zynga, companies know that anthropologists add value to an organization.

University of Memphis faculty, alums, and students have worked with formidable industry leaders like St. Jude, Electrolux, and FedEx and the nationally recognized growth strategy and innovation firm, Southern Growth Studio.

Masters Candidates complete a 300 hour practicum, gaining firsthand experience working in applied anthropology. Contact Keri Brondo, Graduate Program Coordinator, for more information about placement within your organization.

Forward thinking businesses around the global are employing anthropologists in research, development, marketing, human resources, innovation, corporate culture, and elsewhere. The articles below highlight how anthropologists are helping businesses with both client and user insights and a better understand of their own corporate cultures.

What is Business Anthropology- The Society for Applied Anthropology

Anthropologists Go Native in the Corporate Village- Fast Company

Intel's Cultural Anthropologists- CNN Money

Anthropologists Dig into Money- Mercury News

Olson's Anthropologists Bring Meaning to Marketing- MINNPOST

Business Anthropology Unlocks Opportunities- Memphis Daily News

R&D 2.0: Fewer Engineers, More Anthropologists- Harvard Business Review Blog

Breakthrough Market Discoveries Often Hide Out in Latent Form-

EPIC- EPIC is an annual professional conference promoting ethnography and human behavior studies in business settings.

CoPAPIA- CoPAPIA is a committee within the American Anthropological Association dedicated to practicing applied and public anthropologists.

University of Memphis Alumni Amy Santee's blog, Anthropologizing, has a wealth of resources on business anthropology as well as interviews with several of our alums who are currently working in Memphis and across the US.  


For Students

What Anthropology Can Do for Your Career

Graduate student Cole Bradley (far right) conducting consumer validation with the Southern Growth Studio Street Team at the Memphis Italian Fest.

Graduate student Cole Bradley (far right) conducting consumer validation with the Southern Growth Studio Street Team.

The University of Memphis offers a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and a Master of Arts in Applied Anthropology in two core concentrations- Medical Anthropology and Globalization, Development, and Culture. The major prepares you to serve business clients and consumers from diverse communities and to compete in a global marketplace. Our nationally recognized Graduate Program is one of the oldest Applied Anthropology programs in the US and is designed to train you to apply the theoretical and methodological foundations you learn in the classroom in professional settings.

The Applied Medical Anthropology program is designed to link scholarship with practice, training you to investigate development and the distribution of health and illness within populations, health disparities, prevention initiatives, medical care, and caregiving within a global perspective.

The Applied Globalization, Development, and Culture Anthropology program offers three focus areas: Community Development, Environmental Justice and Sustainability, and Cultural Heritage and Identity. You will learn how to apply your knowledge of the creation of identity, community, power, and development in our increasingly globalized world in professional settings ranging from housing, tourism, museums, non-profits, governments, businesses and corporations, and many more.

Both concentrations provide you with the opportunity to work directly with organizations who benefit from your unique knowledge and, in turn, give you real world experience in the community development, community health, and business arenas. The networks, knowledge, and experience you will build through this first hand learning is invaluable to your future employment prospects after graduating from our challenging, rewarding, and award winning program.

Business anthropology focuses on organizational and corporate culture, culture changes, marketing and consumer behavior, user-centered design, intercultural communication, international business, and human resource management.

We hope that you'll find this page helpful for understanding what anthropology can do for your business, what anthropology can do for your career, and how the University of Memphis Department of Anthropology can help you meet your business and professional needs.

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Department of Anthropology | 316 Manning Hall | Memphis, TN | 38152-3530 | Phone: 901-678-2080 | Fax: 901-678-2069
Last Updated: 2/21/14