The Digital Turn in Business Anthropology


  • Matt Artz



This essay examines the emerging “digital turn” in business anthropology, a phenomenon propelled by the increasing prevalence and influence of digital technologies. Despite the significant underrepresentation of digital anthropology in current literature within the Journal of Business Anthropology, its relevance to the traditionally focused areas of organizational culture, marketing, consumer research, advertising, and user experience is irrefutable, given the rapid digitalization of the business landscape. By exploring evidence of the “digital turn” and the potential for digital anthropology to overtake design anthropology as a dominant paradigm, this essay advocates for integrating digital anthropology into the professional discourses and research practices of business anthropologists. It highlights the capacity of digital anthropology to equip practitioners with the necessary tools and perspectives to navigate and respond effectively to the ever-evolving digital landscape. Furthermore, the essay delves into the potential of emerging digital technologies, such as AI, to revolutionize anthropological research and practice. Simultaneously, it underscores the entrepreneurial opportunities available to founder anthropologists, specifically by productizing anthropological knowledge and methods. However, practitioners must also acknowledge and address significant challenges such as the rapid pace of digital transformation, privacy and ethical considerations, and the risk of introducing machine bias into the research process. In conclusion, the essay posits that the emerging “digital turn” in business anthropology offers substantial opportunities that will shape the discipline in the coming years, warranting its inclusion by practitioners and academics alike.

Author Biography

Matt Artz

is an anthropologist, designer, strategist, product manager, and entrepreneur, specializing in user experience, product development, and consumer insights. His design work has attracted attention from Apple’s Planet of the Apps and the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Pitch Competition, and his ideas have been showcased on TED, UNESCO, UserZoom, UX Planet, Towards Data Science, Product Coalition, and Zapier.


Accenture. 2023. Technology Vision 2023: Global Business and IT Executive Survey. New York: Accenture.

American Anthropological Association. 2023. Anthropology News 64(2).

Anderson, K., Nafus, D., Rattenbury, T., and Aipperspach, R. 2009. “Numbers Have Qualities Too: Experiences with Ethno-Mining.” Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings: 123-140.

Artz, M. 2018. “What is Design Anthropology?” Available online at: [Accessed 2023].

Artz, M. 2021. “What is Business Anthropology?” Available online at: [Accessed 2023].

Artz, M. 2022. “Design Anthropology, Algorithmic Bias, Behavioral Capital, and the Creator Economy.” Practicing Anthropology 44(2): 33-36.

Artz, M. 2023a. “AI and the Future of Anthropology.” Available online at: [Accessed 2023].

Artz, M. 2023b. “From Machine Learning to Machine Knowing: A Digital Anthropology Approach for the Machine Interpretation of Cultures.” France: UNESCO. Available online at:

Artz, M. 2023c. “Ten Predictions for AI and the Future of Anthropology.” Anthropology News, May 8. Available online at:

Artz, M. 2023d. “The Future of Anthropology in Business.” Presented at The 4th Global Business Anthropology Summit.

Artz, M. 2023e. “What is Digital Anthropology?” Available online at: [Accessed 2023].

Boellstorff, T. 2008. Coming of Age in Second-Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Clarke, A. J. (ed.) 2017. Design Anthropology: Object Cultures in Transition. London: Bloomsbury.

Coleman, G. 2010. “Ethnographic Approaches to Digital Media.” Annual Review of Anthropology 39: 1-19.

Cotton, I. and Darragh, S. 2022. New Horizons in Digital Anthropology: Innovation for Understanding Humanity. France & New York: UNESCO and The LiiV Center.

DiCarlo, L. 2018. “Teach Your Children Well: (How and) Why Design Anthropology Speaks to Our Students.” Journal of Business Anthropology 7(2): 268-278.

Ferraro, G. P. and Briody, E. K. 2017. The Cultural Dimension of Global Business. New York: Routledge.

Forlano, L. and Smith, S. 2018. “Critique as Collaboration in Design Anthropology.” Journal of Business Anthropology 7(2): 279-300.

Geismar, H. and Knox, H. (eds.) 2021. Digital Anthropology (Second Edition). New York: Routledge.

Gluesing, J. C., Riopelle, K. R., and Danowski, J. A. 2014. “Mixing Ethnography and Information Technology Data Mining to Visualize Innovation Networks in Global Networked Organizations.” In S. Domínguez and B. Hollstein (eds.), Mixed Methods Social Networks Research (pp. 203-234). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gregory, S. 2018. “Design Anthropology as Social Design Process.” Journal of Business Anthropology 7(2): 210-234.

Gunn, W. and Donovan, J. (eds.) 2016. Design and Anthropology. London: Routledge.

Gunn, W., Otto, T., and Smith, R. C. (eds.) 2013. Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice. London: Bloomsbury.

Hillier, K. 2023. “Digital Anthropology Meets Data Science.” Anthropology News, May 08.

Horst, H. A. and Miller, D. (eds.) 2012. Digital Anthropology. London: Routledge.

Jemielniak, D. 2020. Thick Big Data: Doing Digital Social Sciences. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jensen, T. E., Birkbak, A., Madsen, A. K., and Munk, A. K. 2021. ”Participatory Data Design: Acting in a Digital World.” In G. L. Downey and T. Zuiderent-Jerak (eds.), Making & Doing: Activating STS through Knowledge Expression and Travel (pp. 117-136). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Jordan, A. T. 2013. Business Anthropology. Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press.

Jordan, A. T. 2019. Business Anthropology. Available online at:;jsessionid=AB804BB1C31173280CD3A3ED4C66C185?rskey=ySbNgG&result=1 [Accessed 2023].

Koycheva, L. V, 2023. Ethnography for an Accessible Future: Scaling Embodiment as a Paradigm for Anthropology in the Digital World Through Telepresence Robots. France: UNESCO.

Kozinets, R. 2009. Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Lanzeni, D., Waltorp, K., Pink, S., and Smith, R. C. (eds.) 2023. An Anthropology of Futures and Technologies. Routledge: London.

Miller, C. 2018. Design + Anthropology: Converging Pathways in Anthropology and Design. New York: Routledge.

Miller, C. 2020. Design Anthropology. Available online at: [Accessed 2023].

Miller, C. and Hitch, E. 2018. “Design Anthropology: An Introduction to the Themed Issue.” Journal of Business Anthropology 7(2): 157-162.

Miller, D. 2018. Digital Anthropology. Available online at: [Accessed 2023].

Morais, R. J. and Malefyt, T. 2010. “How Anthropologists Can Succeed in Business: Mediating Multiple Worlds of Inquiry.” International Journal of Business Anthropology 1(1): 45-56.

Munk, A. K. 2022. How to Use Computer Vision to Study Large Corpora of Images. Available online at: [Accessed 2023].

Munk, A. K., Olesen, A. G., and Jacomy, M. 2022. “The Thick Machine: Anthropological AI Between Explanation and Explication.” Big Data & Society 9(1): 1-14.

Munk, A. K. and Winthereik, B. R. 2022. “Computational Ethnography: A Case of COVID-19’s Methodological Consequences.” In M. H. Bruun, A. Wahlberg, R. Douglas-Jones, C. Hasse, K. Hoeyer, D. B. Kristensen, and B. R. Winthereik (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of the Anthropology of Technology (pp. 201-214). Singapore: Springer.

Otto, T. and Smith, R. C. 2013. “Design Anthropology: A Distinct Style of Knowing.” In W. Gunn, T. Otto, and R. C. Smith (eds.), Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice (pp. 1-29). London: Bloomsbury.

Paff, S. 2021. “Anthropology by Data Science.” Annals of Anthropological Practice 46(1): 7-18.

Pink, S. 2022. Emerging Technologies / Life at the Edge of the Future. London: Routledge.

Pink, S., Horst, H., Postill, J., Hjorth, L., Lewis, T., and Tacchi, J. 2015. Digital Ethnography: Principles and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Seaver, N. 2023. Computing Taste: Algorithms and the Makers of Music Recommendation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Smith, R. C., Vangkilde, K. T., Kjærsgaard, M. G., Otto, T., Halse, J., and Binder, T. (eds.) 2016. Design Anthropological Futures. London: Bloomsbury.

Wilson, S. M. and Peterson, L. C. 2002. “The Anthropology of Online Communities.” Annual Review of Anthropology 31: 449-467.