Market Discourse and the Evolution of Corporate Anthropology

Market Discourse and the Evolution of Corporate Anthropology

A man uses a mobile phone in front of an electronic board displaying market indices from around the world, outside a brokerage in Tokyo

Paper Abstract

As anthropologists, we position the value of our perspective and services in the corporate context.  Thus, we both perpetuate and are subject to the discourse of the market.  This paper describes one company’s transformation from a technocratic to market-driven mindset, and how workers are managed – through the proliferation of market discourse internal to the corporation – to become not simply producers, but consumers of the company’s future and their own careers. This paper goes on to argue that these changing patterns of work and worker control have an impact on the corporate form and those individuals – including anthropologists – who survive in its ecosystem.

Session Participants

  • Melissa Cefkin, IBM (Organizer & Chair)
  • Brigitte Jordan. Palo Alto Research Center
  • Melissa Fisher, Columbia University
  • Donna K. Flynn, Microsoft Corporation
  • Martin Ortlieb, Yahoo Corporation
  • Ari Shapiro, Hall and Partners Healthcare
  • Patricia Sachs, Social Solutions Inc.
  • Elizabeth Tunstall, Arc Worldwide
  • Francoise Brun-Cottan, Veri-phi Consulting
  • Rick Robinson, NOP World (Discussant)
  • Jeanette Blomberg, IBM Research Almaden (Discussant)

Session Abstract

Workplace and Consumer Studies: A Dialogue

In this panel consumer and workplace researchers explore the common and different issues raised by their work, addressing their experiences as experts sought out to reveal hidden truths on the one hand, and to provide research-based scientific validation of concepts and programs on the other. We explore how business ideologies and structures, modes of knowledge production, and consumer and workplace practices are impacted by the work of anthropologists within consulting, design, branding, and market research firms. We ask how understandings of consumers are embedded and reified in organizational contexts and market discourses, and how understandings of work and workers come up against orthodoxies of company tools and operations. Finally, we frame questions about the anthropological enterprise itself by considering the practices of anthropologists in collaborative  research teams and in the process of building understanding together with stakeholders in business enterprises.

This dialogue is intended to put the two distinct but interrelated areas of research – workplace and consumer studies – into dialogue in order to challenge and advance this area of practicing anthropology and ideally to deepen the value these areas of work on both the discipline of anthropology and on the social contexts of their practice. Researchers in these areas contend with over-determined notions of scientific rationality while artfully engaged in sense-making endeavors that remain true to the interests and expressions of their study participants. What implications do the differences between these areas of study have for the kind of work that practicing anthropologists do, the questions they ask, and the approaches they use?

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