Corporate Anthropology

March 18, 2013 § 1 Comment

I asked Madsbjerg how he would sell his firm to a potential employee currently teaching at a university, and he leaned toward me with a smile, slipping comfortably into the Marxist lingo of academia. “Do you want to sit and write about the world,” he asked, “or do you want to do something in it?”

I couldn’t help but think of Steve Jobs’s famous entreaty to John Sculley, then the president of PepsiCo, asking him to join Apple in 1983 as CEO. “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life?,” Jobs asked. “Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

The irony, of course, is that ReD [Madsbjerg’s company] is changing the world in part by helping a global beverage company sell more sugared water.

From this article in The Atlantic on what might be called corporate anthropology or anthropology-for-marketing. A friend posted it on facebook and wrote “interesting.” Not the word I would have used. Instead, I’d probably go with Bill Hicks on this one.

I disagree with Madsbjerg’s dichotomy: contrary to what he suggests, I think in very obvious ways writing about the world is doing something in it. I think that Stuart Kirsch’s article “Anthropology and Advocacy” does a better job than most of pointing out some of the potential ethical dilemmas involved in this doing-by-writing, and I am sympathetic to Kirsch’s views on the proprietary responsibilities of anthropologists towards the information they collect.


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