About the Journal

Focus and Scope

The Journal of Business Anthropology is an Open Access journal which publishes the results of anthropological research in business organizations and business situations of all kinds. Based on fieldwork, participant-observation and more general ethnographic methods, the journal’s articles, case studies, and field reports have three objectives:

  1. To develop an understanding among students and academics more generally of a wide variety of business practices;
  2. To bring to bear theoretical contributions from anthropology and related disciplines that may guide business practitioners in their day-to-day working lives; and
  3. To encourage discussion of what does and what does not, constitute ‘fieldwork’ and ‘ethnography’, as well as how they may be carried out, in corporations and other kinds of business organizations.

Through the variety of its offerings, the journal encourages reflection upon different ways of writing up and presenting research findings. These address a broad readership of researchers, practitioners, graduate students, and business people, for whom an in-depth understanding of organizational structures and interpersonal relations can help in the management of personnel, workplace design, and formulation of business strategies.

Peer Review Process

All submissions are subject to rigorous double-blind peer reviews by internationally recognized scholars, on the basis of which authors receive detailed letters from the Editors outlining how best they should revise and resubmit their work.

Publication Frequency

The Journal of Business Anthropology publishes two issues every year, in May and November. Special Issues, case studies and field reports are published separately as they become available.

Open Access Policy

The Journal of Business Anthropology is made available through the Copenhagen Business School Library’s Open Journals System. This choice is based on three ambitions: one academic, a second environmental, and the third political.

The academic ambition is to provide a wide range of research materials, formats and theoretical analyses simultaneously, which will appeal to a broadly constituted readership consisting not just of university and business school researchers and their graduate students, but also of professional anthropologists working in corporations or as consultants, and of business practitioners in general.

By adopting an Open Access format, the journal is able to display simultaneously a variety of research findings as different ‘streams’:

  • Theoretical papers of the kind usually found in academic journals;
  • Ethnographic case studies of business in action; and
  • Field reports outlining ongoing ethnographic research and issues arising therefrom.

While the theoretical papers will be published according to a regular six-monthly schedule, case studies and field reports will be published as and when they become available. In future it is hoped that they will also be supported by blogs to enable the journal’s readers to engage in ongoing dialogues about issues arising from these writings. In addition to these three publication streams, the Journal of Business Anthropology will publish from time to time

  • Less formal, but provocative essays and opinion pieces as a means of encouraging broad reader participation in the journal’s contents;
  • Debates about theoretical, methodological and other challenges encountered by business anthropologists during the course of their work. This debates stream will also be accompanied by a blog to enable reader inputs and the development of different positions vis-à-vis ongoing discussions.

In addition to these streams, the journal will also run an ongoing

  • Book reviews section, which will trace the field of business (corporate, organizational, enterprise) anthropology throughout its development, from the second quarter of the 20th century to the present day. In due course, a blog will be set up to enable comments, elaborations, criticisms and rebuttals of points made in the reviews, in order to establish the field of business anthropology in its entirety.

In addition to the above the journal’s editor-in-chief and his executive editorial team are considering how best to attract younger scholars and practitioners – possibly by means of an annual award for ‘best contribution of the year’.

The environmental ambition concerns the use of paper. The publishing industry (including newspapers, magazines, and other media forms, as well as books and journals) is, to say the least, ecologically unfriendly. An enormous number of each media form is printed every day. In the USA, for instance, 275,000 new book titles are published every year – that is, more than 750 titles a day. In Japan, to take another example, more than four billion magazines are published every year. A significantly large quantity of both books and magazines (20-40%, depending on media genre and country of publication) is returned unsold to its publishers. Although a lot of this paper is recycled, the publishing industry is responsible for a significant percentage of the world’s deforestation, as well as for an excessive consumption of oil used in the unnecessary (often intercontinental) transportation of printed materials backwards and forwards between publishers and retail outlets. By adopting an Open Access policy, the Journal of Business Anthropology is pursuing an ethical stance vis-à-vis the environment and aims to contribute, albeit indirectly, to the sustainable development of forests and wood.

The political ambition concerns authors’ assignment of copyright and journal publication by commercial publishers. Firstly, almost all journals insist that their authors assign copyright for their articles to the publisher of the journal concerned (this is the basis upon which the publishing industry, like other ‘creative’ or copyright industries, functions). While it is possible for an author to re-use material published in journals in his or her own further writings, the publisher can sell that material to a third party as and when an opportunity arises. Although the author may receive some partial recompense, s/he has no say in the actual transaction made by the publisher concerned for the duration of the contract between them.

Secondly, academic publishers have taken advantage of the marketization of education systems around the world, and the consequent pressure on scholars to publish the results of their research, by increasing the number of academic journals that they publish. Although this enables scholars to find outlets for their work, publishers use journal publication to raise up-front money (through subscriptions) that then supports other activities (including the publication of books and company growth). At the same time, however, commercial academic publishers have increased, by 158% between 1991 and 2001 (five times the level of CPI inflation), the subscription rates that they charge university and other educational libraries.

One, though not the only, reason that they have been able to do this is because, thanks to the development of citation indices, which are easily applied to journals though not to books, academic journals have come to be used as the ‘standard’ by which academic excellence may be ‘objectively’ judged by politicians and their administrative bodies when deciding on future funding mechanisms. This has led to libraries having to cut back on book purchases as they focus on their journal collections. The tertiary educational system thus rests on a mutually self-supporting tripod of outputs (journal articles), budgets (library acquisitions of journals) and perceived quality (citation indices based on journal publication).

The Journal of Business Anthropology adopts a critical stance towards the commercial exploitation of academic research through the publication of overpriced journals that take advantage of under-budgeted university and educational libraries. By adopting a multiple format approach, it also takes a stand against current administrative evaluations of ‘academic quality’. It does not believe in the value of, although it may be obliged to take part in, citation indices. It also makes its contents entirely free. Copyright for all material published on the journal’s Open Access website remains with its authors, who may use it elsewhere as they wish. However, JBA reserves the right to keep submitted content accessible through this website.

Why Business Anthropology?

The discipline of anthropology boasts a long tradition of research on different aspects of economic behaviour. From very early on, anthropologists have argued that the economy is part of the wider social world and not an independent entity. People, choices, rationalities, gifts and commodities all have their ‘social lives’.

In spite of their discipline’s contribution to a wider debate within other social sciences about the extent to which cultural forms are part of the economy, and vice versa, anthropologists have historically been reluctant to engage with economic forms and behaviour in contemporary capitalist (or socialist) societies. This is partly because the comparative approach on which anthropology was founded has favoured engagement with worlds ‘other’ than our own. As a result, until recently, relatively few scholars have chosen to focus on contemporary business practices. During the past two decades, however, there has been a formidable growth in the anthropology of business, finance, markets and organizations at a global level. Pioneering scholars have paved the way for anthropological, as well as multidisciplinary, ethnographic work specifically on the worlds of business. There is now a substantial critical mass in the area, which is also articulated in teaching curriculae at business schools and universities around the world. And yet, there is no one journal catering to this new market. One aim of the Journal of Business Anthropology is to bring previous decades of scattered scholarship back into focus and so to define business anthropology as an academic and professional field of study.

There are more than 2,000 well-qualified anthropologists working in business organizations of one sort or another in the United States alone; there are dozens more teaching business-related courses in university anthropology departments and business schools there and elsewhere around the world. Business anthropology, then, is coming to be seen as one of the most appropriate ways for researchers and businessmen alike to understand why people around them behave and do as they do, why organizations function in the ways that they function, and why consumers choose to buy the goods and services that they buy.

Why things have changed is hard to gauge precisely. One reason for the increased interest in what has been variously called business, corporate, enterprise or organizational anthropology probably stems from a long-term shift in anthropologists’ foci, from small-scale communities located in remote parts of the world to more complex social forms nearer at hand which do not require their disappearing from the face of their known earths for long periods at a time, but which allow them to step in and out of a ‘field’ that is situated only a few hours, and possibly just minutes, away from where they work and live. This does not mean, however, that all anthropologists accept that they need to take account of business. On the contrary, there are many who despise it (and those who study it). One aim of the Journal of Business Anthropology, then, is to show that the study of business is central, not peripheral, to the discipline as a whole.

Another reason for the emergence of an anthropological interest in and by business people and their organizations may be attributed to the successive challenges in other disciplines in the social sciences, such as management and economics, to uncover the social dynamics of business – whether they be at the general level of why one country’s GNP is competing with, or has even overtaken their own, or at more particular levels of management, quality control, worker efficiency, advertising, marketing, and so on. As organizational structures and networks have become more complex, scholars and practitioners alike have also turned their attention to ethnographic methods as inroads to enhanced learning. The methodology of participant-observation and intensive fieldwork (commonly referred to as ethnography) is currently seen as a magic tool that will cure all evils. Another aim of the Journal of Business Anthropology, therefore, is to ensure that ethnographic methods do not get consigned to the dustbin of business fads and fashions by clarifying what they can, and cannot, achieve, as well as how best they may be honed, utilized, and put to practical test.

Yet another reason underpinning these changes is the belated recognition that the limited stock market company is one of the most pervasive forms of social organization throughout the world. The fact that different societies set different limits on what companies may practice, and how they do so, means that anthropologists are well placed to tease out those differences and analyse their ramifications. The importance of such a task in an age of global business is obvious. Business corporations of various forms are significant drivers of globalization processes, which make them focal points in our ambition to spur discussions around business anthropology. Therefore, the Journal of Business Anthropology intends to publish scholarly research that comes from outside the dominant Euro-American intellectual axis and analyses business practices and organizational forms in Brazil, China, India, Japan, and elsewhere.

There are dozens of academic journals devoted to publishing different aspects of research conducted by anthropologists all around the world. Many of these journals are concerned with the kinds of subjects that anthropologists have traditionally studied and written about: ethnicity, kinship and economic organization, political relations, networks, magic, ritual, symbolism, and so on. Others are prepared to consider articles by anthropologists on newer themes, like the production and consumption of media forms, the Internet, and so forth. A handful of journals publish articles about business more generally. But there has been no dedicated quality journal for business anthropologists. The Journal of Business Anthropology fills this niche.

Although the term ‘business anthropology’ has been selected for the title of the journal, it is recognized that different terms prevail among different researchers and practitioners in different parts of the world. While ‘business anthropology’ is generally accepted in the United States, along with ‘corporate ethnography’, in Europe ‘organizational anthropology’ is possibly the preferred term (since it also embraces government bodies, administrative practices, voluntary associations, and so on), while in Japan there are numerous adherents of what is called ‘enterprise anthropology’. The Journal of Business Anthropology incorporates multiple interpretations and different anthropologies of business-related activities. In so doing, it is open to influences from neighbouring disciplines such as economic sociology and cultural economics, and aims to be interdisciplinary in its reflections.