Horizons of Business Anthropology in a World of Flexible Accumulation

  • Allen W. Batteau
  • Carolyn E. Psenka Wayne State University


Classically, anthropology supplied a cultural critique, by contrasting the Noble Savage to contemporary institutions and exposing the effects of structures of authority. This understanding of humanity was expanded a hundred years ago by Boas’s embrace of cultural and linguistic variety within a common humanity. Similarly, the classical role for business anthropology and other forms of applied anthropology has been to identify areas in contemporary enterprises and institutions where improvements could be made. Today anthropologists’ engagement with the contemporary world of business in a régime of flexible accumulation is expanding our understanding of the human project, interrogating the régimes of value and extension whose scale is global and whose scope penetrates to the deepest levels of consciousness. Using contemporary ethnographic insights from the authors and other anthropologists, this article suggests an enlarged understanding of and direction for business anthropology at the frontier of anthropology that uses classic anthropological approaches to investigate the sites where new human possibilities are being assembled and created.

Author Biographies

Allen W. Batteau
Allen W. Batteau is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Wayne State University. A graduate of the University of Chicago (PhD, 1978), he is the author of the book Technology and Culture (2009, Waveland Press) and numerous articles on organizational culture. From 2001 to 2009 he led the university’s Institute for Information Technology and Culture.
Carolyn E. Psenka, Wayne State University
Carolyn E. Psenka earned her PhD in cultural anthropology from Wayne State University in 2009. Her dissertation, A Monumental Task: Translating Complex Knowledge in NASA’s Human Space Flight Network, examined knowledge management practices with NASA’s space shuttle program. Dr. Psenka has done extensive ethnographic research in public, private, and government institutions.