Anthropology and Business: Influence and Interests

  • Marietta L. Baba Michigan State University


The premise of this article is that the expansive domain of business, as expressed in its market-transaction based, organizational, and institutional forms, has influenced the development or “making” of anthropology as a discipline and a profession for the better part of a century (i.e., since the 1920s). The influences were reciprocal, in that making anthropology played a role in forming the industrial order of the early 20th century and established precedents for the interaction of anthropology and the business domain that continues into the contemporary era. Anthropologists acknowledge that the time has come for our discipline to attend to business and its corporate forms and engage them as legitimate subjects of inquiry (Fisher and Downey 2006; Cefkin 2009; Welker et. al. 2011), and this suggests that it would be prudent to examine the ways in which business is focusing upon anthropology, and the potential implications of such attention. Throughout this article, the term “business” will refer to private firms as members of an institutional field, meaning “organizations that in the aggregate, constitute a recognized area of institutional life” (; i.e., the totality of relevant actors; Bourdieu 1971; DiMaggio and Powell 1983:148). Over time, this field has attracted prominent academic researchers (as will be discussed herein), who may become intellectual “suppliers” to businesses, and thus part of the field. Therefore, the term “business” may include any organization or individual that is part of the field, including academic suppliers (see also discussion section). To reflect the scope and complexity of the institutional field, the term “domain of business” may be used interchangeably with “business”.

Author Biography

Marietta L. Baba, Michigan State University
Marietta L. Baba is Dean of the College of Social Science, Professor of Anthropology, and Professor of Human Resources and Labor Relations, at Michigan State University. Dr. Baba is the author of more than 75 scholarly and technical publications in the fields of organizational and institutional anthropology, anthropology of policy, culture and technology, and evolutionary processes.