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School of Social Sciences

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BAEcon Economics
Learn how the social sciences can help you to understand today's world.

BAEcon Economics / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Introduction to Business Anthropology: Consumers, Companies and Culture

Unit code SOAN10361
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Anthropology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Anthropology is the study of human culture and social organization. Business anthropology as a field of practice looking at how culture impacts on consumer behaviour and on organizations is increasingly used by companies across the world in processes such as product development. This course introduces students to how businesses use anthropology, how culture shapes consumption choices and how culture affects businesses as organizations in various parts of the world. Topics studied include: the importance of branding, homemaking and identity, how cultural insights shape product design, cultural difference at work and the business implications of organizational cultures. The course explores these issues using a mix of research articles, websites and case studies of companies like Intel, Muji, Ford and the New York Stock Exchange to provide real world examples of the ways in which culture shapes business practices globally. This course will appeal to students with interests in society, culture, business and marketing. Assessment is by exam and a short practical exercise.


This course provides a general introduction to the field of business anthropology as an applied social science aimed at understanding organisational and consumer cultures. The course explores the relation between anthropology and business, the development of anthropology businesses specialising in consumer ethnography and the importance of understanding culture for business organisations.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit successful students will be able to:

  • Understand the significance of cultures in affecting behaviour in the workplace and of consumers
  • Understand where anthropology and ethnography can be usefully applied in business settings, in particular in relation to organisational analysis and consumer behaviour.
  • Select and make use of ethnographic case studies of business practices.

Teaching and learning methods

Ten two hour lectures with discussion and group participation plus nine small group tutorials. A blackboard zone will support this course.

Assessment methods

800 word observation - Part 1 of the course - 15%

tutorial tasks - Part 2 of the course - 15%

2 hour unseen examination - 70% - Semester 1

Feedback methods

Students will receive online personalised feedback on the Observation Exercise and feedback on the tutorial assignments.

Recommended reading

Core Text:
Sunderland, P & Denny, R 2007 Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research, Walnut Creek, Left Coast Press

Other Readings:
Underhill, P 2004 The Call of the Mall. How We Shop, New York, Profile, Miller, D 1998 A Theory of Shopping, London, Polity

Hofstede, G 1983 The Cultural Relativity of Organisational Practices and Theories, Journal of International Business Studies 12 (2), 75-89

Gluesing, J 199x Building Connections and Balancing Power in Global Teams; Towards a Reconceptualisation of Culture as Composite, Anthropology of Work Review 18 (2&3); 18-29.

Bell, G 2006 Satu Keluraga, Satu Komputer (One Home. One Computer). Cultural Accounts of ICTs in South and Southeast Asia, Design Issues 22(2), 35-55

De Waal Malefyt, T 2009 Understanding the Rise of Consumer Ethnography: Branding Techno methodologies in the New Economy, American Anthropologist 111(2) 201-210.

Halsall, R 2008 From 'business culture' to 'brand state': Conceptions of nation and Culture in Businesses Literature on Cultural Difference, Culture and Organization 14 (1|), 15-30.

Suchman, L et al 1999 Reconstructing technologies as Social practice, American behavioural Scientist 43 (3), 392-408

Skeldon , R 2010 The Overseas Chinese of South East Asia. History, Culture, Business, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 36 (7), 1193-1194.

Pink, S & Malos, E 2006 Home Truths: gender, Domestic Objects and Everyday Life, British Journal of Sociology 57 (4), 727-728.

Weeks, J. 2004. 'Organizational Culture.' Chapter 3 of Unpopular Culture: The Ritual of Complaint in a British Bank. Chicago. The University of Chicago Press. Pp. 31-56.

Maurer, W. "Engineering an Islamic Future: Speculations on Islamic Financial Alternatives." Anthropology Today. 17.1 (2001): 8-11.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 20
Tutorials 9
Independent study hours
Independent study 169

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Katherine Smith Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Length of Course: 12 weeks


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