Anthropological Research in Major Corporations: Work Products of the Industrial Domain



Employment patterns in anthropology have shifted markedly over the past 25 years, with increasing numbers of professionals working full-time in a wide range of non-academic settings. Recent survey results show that more than one-half (51%) of employed, newly graduating Ph.D's now work as non-academic practitioners. As part of an overall effort to learn more about the work of practitioners, and to increase understanding and communication between the academic and practitioner arms of the discipline, the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology (NAPA) recently sponsored an invited symposium entitled “Anthropological Research in Major Corporations” (held at the 1985 Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association in Washington D.C.) The specific objectives of the symposium were to explore the application of anthropological methods and concepts in modern industrial research, to generate interest in business and industrial anthropology, and to demonstrate the relevance of such work to important organizational and social problems.

The current volume of Central Issues in Antrhopology features four papers that initially were presented as part of the NAPA symposium. These papers reflect anthropological practice in several major industries (e.g., automobile manufacture, computer technology, health care) and represent the work of practioners across a range of subdisciplines (e.g., cultural, linguistic, and biological anthropology.) This introductory overview by the symposium organizer provides background information and a rationale for the symposium, and considers the four papers as products of contemporary anthropological research in industry. Special attention is given to several differences between academic and industrial research (i.e. differences in research objects, locus of authority, and system of peer evaluation), especially as such differences are reflected in the present collections. Differences in university and corporate environments account for much of the variance in research products emerging from these two domains, however it is concluded that anthropologists across domains share the mission of inductive discovery through unique approaches to the conceptualization of problems, the elicitation of data, and the interpretation of social phenomena.