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date: 03 December 2022

Anthropology, Technology, and Innovationlocked

Anthropology, Technology, and Innovationlocked

  • Susan SquiresSusan SquiresUniversity of North Texas


Applied anthropology is increasing an alternative to academic anthropological contributing to innovations in a broad range of products and services including technology, office equipment and furniture, business organization, breakfast foods, automobiles, hand sanitizers, communication media, medical equipment, smartphones, and much, much more. When applied anthropologists began to work in business organizations, they first called themselves industrial anthropologists and, later, organizational anthropologists. The first industrial and organizational anthropologists were based in the academy. However, in the 1990s a growing number of anthropologists also began to be employed at private businesses, including the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), IDEO, E-Lab, GVO, and even General Motors. There they were instrumental in applying the theory and methods of anthropology to potential innovation. At these companies , many of early applied anthropologists became accidental innovators as a consequence of their role working in teams composed of differing disciplines. It was the anthropologist on the team who was responsible for contributing research-based insights that framed, directed, and/or inspired creative idea. In the process of conducting research on a problem, these anthropologists stumbled across new ways to frame issues and uncovered insights leading to novel solutions: innovation. As the value of applied anthropology has been recognized, and employment of anthropologists has expanded, specializations have emerged. No longer does the title of organizational or business anthropologist always provide an appropriate or sufficient level of description for many anthropologists although both continue to be used. New labels, such as design anthropologist, user experience researcher, and marketing and digital anthropology, have been created to distinguish among applied anthropologists working in differing sectors. Organizational anthropologists have continued to contribute to our understanding of organizational culture. Design anthropology is used primarily by anthropologists working in product and technology industries. Digital anthropologists study human interactions in virtual/digital spaces, or investigate how digital technology is impacting society. Marketing anthropologists have been in advertising and marketing for decades, and there is a substantial body of scholarly literature generated from this work. Despite the different titles these anthropologists hold, from design to marketing, the value of the theoretical and methodological contributions of anthropology are the key underpinning of their research. The innovations that have resulted from the work of these anthropologists cannot be underestimated. The theories and methods of anthropology, applied by anthropologists, provide a perspective that takes a unique in-depth systems approach that can map interconnections, challenges, and assumptions and open up wider landscapes. The true innovation anthropologists contribute to innovation is anthropology itself.


  • Applied Anthropology

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