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8.2 Anthropological Methods Used in Previous Studies on Business

The purpose of science is to find and establish laws that demonstrate the regularity of phenomena. Theories and concepts constitute the component elements of a law. In the case of the social sciences, including business administration and management, the purpose is twofold: to establish laws on social phenomena and to apply such laws to policymaking in the real world. To establish such universal laws, social scientists have used deductive and inductive reasoning.

We now address the question of what has been gained through the use of anthropological methods within social science studies, especially in the field of business administration and management studies. Ann Jordan has identified five business issues that have been studied by anthropologists. These are work processes, group behavior, organizational change, diversity, and globalization. [1] study of the first issue, work processes, entails identifying work processes or finishing tasks and making them more efficient. Jordan provides Lucy Suchman's work [2] of human-machine communication at the Palo Alto Research Center as a related example. Her ethnographic work on copy machine used by people discovered that simplicity is important. As the result, all Xerox copy machines, even though they are complex with many features, have a single green start button. [3] here are two categories of studies related to the second issue, group behavior. The first focuses on understanding human behavior in areas such as marketing and the second on studying group behavior within organizations and identifying successful cooperative systems. Regarding the third issue, organizational change, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and restructuring of companies have become commonplace. For these kinds of organizational changes, acquiring an understanding of their effects on individuals within cooperative systems is important for finding and resolving potential problems. The fourth issue concerns diversity or heterogeneity of workers within the workplace. An understanding of how gender, ethnicity, and cultural diversity operate in the workplace is valuable for resolving possible problems that may arise as a result of workers' diversification. The last issue concerns global business, particularly the activities of multinational enterprises. I will discuss this in detail in the next section.

Previous anthropological business studies [4] hat have mainly been ethnographical share three characteristics. The first relates to establishing universal laws, which, as I mentioned previously, is the primary purpose of the social sciences. As a methodology, ethnography is more suited for uncovering irregularities in relation to preexisting laws, rather than for exploring the laws themselves.

The second characteristic, which corresponds to the secondary purpose of the social sciences, relates to formulating business (or management) policies. Traditional social sciences posit the necessity of identifying a certain causal relationship for this purpose. However, anthropology does not presuppose the existence of any causal relationship. Instead, it proposes the concept of association, which suggests that a phenomenon, B, is observed in conjunction with a situation

A. Whereas the causation approach explains phenomena in terms of sequences of direct reactions, the association concept interprets the world from a much wider perspective that looks at what accompanies such phenomena. Upholding such a perspective frees us from reductionism and enables us to interpret a phenomenon as a whole, i.e., holism.

The third characteristic relates to seeking possible alternative interpretations of universal laws. Using findings from symbolic anthropology, we are able to interpret a phenomenon by applying metaphors or other rhetorical relationships rather than on the basis of laws. Rhetorical interpretations can be more conducive to the analysis of qualitative relationships between phenomena.

  • [1] Jordan (2003), pp. 2–6.
  • [2] See Suchman (1987).
  • [3] Jordan (2003), p. 3.
  • [4] For a survey of business anthropology studies, see Baba (2012).
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