Fieldwork in a Hall of Mirrors: An Anthropology <i>of</i> Anthropology <i>in</i> Business

  • Jakob Krause-Jensen Aarhaus University
Keywords: ’pure’ and ’applied’ anthropology, human resource management, ethnography, corporate culture, reflexivity, role-ambiguity


An increasing number of anthropology graduates find employment in business organisations, often as culture experts or consultants drawing on ethnographic methods. In this paper I will use my fieldwork experience in the Human Resource Department of Bang & Olufsen to explore the borders and crossovers between anthropological research and anthropological consultancy. Fieldwork took place among human resource consultants (some of them with an anthropological background) who worked for business, i.e. who used ethnographic methods and worked on identifying, describing and communicating the fundamental corporate values, or, as it were, the ’corporate religion’ of the company. How does it affect research stratagems and methodology when the HR employees are in a clear sense both participants in and observers of their own social reality? Is it at all feasible or possible to maintain a distinction between ethnographer and consultant, participant observers and observing participants? Although the distinction between ethnographer and employee cannot be drawn easily, I want to argue that the fact that it is impossible to maintain a watertight separation does not imply that we should abandon the attempt to make the distinction. Being aware of the similarities and overlaps as well as acknowledging the differences is a crucial part of the anthropological methodology.

Author Biography

Jakob Krause-Jensen, Aarhaus University

Jakob Krause-Jensen is an anthropologist and associate professor at Aarhus University. He is interested in ways that anthropological theory and concepts and ethnographic strategies can be used to understand life in contemporary work organsations. He is the author of Flexible Firm. Design and Culture at Bang & Olufsen (Berghahn 2010). He is also co-editing (with B. Moeran) a book series—Anthropology at Work—soon to be launched by Berghahn Books.