With the publication of his new book “Antropología de la Empresa” (Business anthropology), Sergio D. López has provided the sub-discipline with a manual that could serve as a basis for a hypothetical subject.
Historical experience has shown that great changes, especially those affecting preset paradigms, generally stem from the stubborn intellectual work of one or more people. As an example, immortal works such as “Capital”,”The second sex”,”The structure of the scientific revolutions”,”The Rebellion of the Atlas”,”Humani corporis”, the notes of Ada Lovelace,”The origin of species” or others of mythical or religious character such as “The poem of Gilgamesh”, the four books of confuncianity, the Koran or the Bible itself are enough. Throughout our short history, the written word has played an essential role in the renewal of ideas, acting at all times as a window to worlds and spaces yet to be discovered.
And although the publication of Sergio López’s book “Business Anthropology” is not going to suppose the beginning of one of those epistemological revolutions proclaimed by Khun, the truth is that this work deserves a special mention, not only for its uniqueness, but because among its lines inhabits a breath of fresh air, even transformative, for the Spanish-speaking anthropology.
By writting this article, I have a double objective: First, to insist on the urgent need to promote a subject on “business anthropology” in academic spaces and secondly, to present Sergio López’s work as a possible study manual for this potential subject.
THE CONTEXT OF BUSINESS ANTHROPOLOGY: ABSENCE AND OPPORTUNITIES
It has been a long time since those of us who have focused on anthropological applications in the business world expected such a work. Since the publication of “Industrial and Business Anthropology” (1998) by Jordi Roca, the Spanish-speaking business anthropology has been a little orphaned of reference manuals, beyond the scarce articles in specialized journals and some doctoral thesis. This fact, added to a generalized disinterest on the part of the academy towards the company and the markets, has caused an absolute marginalization of the sub-discipline, being its almost testimonial presence in subjects such as “Anthropology of work” or “Applied anthropology”. While other fields of specialization took on renewed importance (such as Public Orientation Anthropology), silence and disciplinary complexes left “Business Anthropology” outside the academic structure, not only in Spain, but in almost the totality of the Spanish-speaking context.
On previous occasions I have defended that this absence acts against the discipline itself and the new graduates who compose it, and that the incorporation of business anthropology into the academic structure should be a priority task.
Firstly, because the company is a key subject for understanding the current capitalist system, such as stock markets, marketing or lobbies. To leave aside the internal and external structures of the private business world is an immense epistemological irresponsibility for a discipline that seeks to study the human being as a whole, precipitating us towards a terrible bias in our holistic understanding of the world.
And secondly, because by making private enterprise invisible as an “object of research” or a contracting profile, new generations are denied plenty of employment opportunities in private companies. This question becomes even more serious when we consider that the current economic context, liquid and changing, is experiencing a kind of “data fever”, mainly sponsored by Big Data, but with immense opportunities for everything related to the qualitative. More and more companies are incorporating anthropologist profiles into multidisciplinary teams, and ethnographic consultancies of various kinds are also multiplying. We are facing an ideal scenario for the progressive incorporation of anthropologists outside academic spaces, an opportunity that should not be missed and that requires an urgent updating of the curricula.
In this context of shortages and opportunities, after almost 20 years without a specialized bibliography in Spanish, Sergio D. López published “Antropología de la empresa”. It should come as no surprise that it is precisely this author who has given this sub-discipline some life.
A graduate in Economics, Doctor of Social Anthropology, professor at The State University of New York at Potsdam, Sergio López is also president and principal creator of one of the most prosperous and outstanding projects in Spanish-speaking anthropology: Antropólogos Iberoamericanos en Red (AIBR). AIBR is a self-managed association organized around concrete growth objectives, which is on its way to becoming the world reference in anthropology in Spanish. In the author’s words: “The business model (of AIBR) does not reward shareholders, but contemplates the use of economic benefits to reinvest them in services for members” (Lopez, 2017:208). A social enterprise of anthropologists for anthropologists.
In addition to his colossal work at AIBR, the author has extensive experience as a chief financial officer in large companies and an independent consultant-anthropologist.
Sergio embodies a multi-faceted profile, straddling anthropology and the company, that by impregnating each chapter of the book with his professional experience manages to build a bridge between two realities destined to understand each other.
Thanks to his work, Sergio López has been able to stimulate the debate on professionalization (subject to which he dedicates chapter 16), making visible the main ways in which anthropologists work in companies. But also, thanks to a clear and concise structure and countless practical examples, the book has big possibilities to become the reference manual on business anthropology, and could well be used as a base document for a hypothetical subject.
A HANDBOOK FOR BUSINESS ANTHROPOLOGY
According to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language, manuals are the books in which the most substantial of a subject is summarized. A manual generally acts as a first contact point, providing bits of knowledge about a specific field. If the manual is good and didactic, the reader will be in charge of deepening through more specialized works. In addition, the manuals must be very clear and well segmented, allowing the reading of certain chapters regardless of having delved into others. Finally, it is important that the manuals includes a good number of examples illustrating the ideas presented.
In the case of “Antropología de la Empresa” it is enough to look at the table of contents to realize that we are facing a work of this nature. In just 250 pages, the author is able to sketch out the long history of the sub-discipline, the axes for categorizing studies in the company, the ethnographic and netnographic research methodologies, the main fields of application (including the newest ones), the most important concepts (such as “consumer subculture”), the question of professionalization or ethical debates regarding the anthropology of the company. All of these questions are illustrated with countless practical examples and real-life cases of ethnographic studies of or for companies. And all of them are collected in a fantastic table (page 17) entitled “List of business anthropology case studies cited in this book”.
Who could have imagined anthropologists studying Finnish vodka, Harley Davidson biker gangs or working with companies like Domino’s Pizza, Boeing or Mattel?
Finally, regardless of the prodigality of the content, there is a curious anecdote regarding its structure. The book is divided into 16 chapters, coincidentally the same number of weeks that a trimester in U.S university have, and I think also in countries like Mexico or Spain. During the presentation of the book at the III AIBR Anthropology Congress, Sergio López confessed that this was due to a mere coincidence, and that a certain person had drawn his attention to it once the book had been published. Whether by chanceor fate, the very structure of the book itself makes it possible to articulate a subject, where each week a chapter would be dealt with.
The publication of “Antropología de la Empresa” is a breath of fresh air for our discipline and for those who want to dedicate themselves professionally to it.
With the advent of this manual, a window is opened to new and exciting field of research, new methodologies and a more than necessary ethical debate in relation to corporate work. Of course, we recommend reading it to anyone interested in the subject and we attach the purchase link below. If you end up with it, we propose the creation of a reading group to comment and debate the most relevant aspects of it.
I would like to conclude these lines by stressing the need to integrate a specific subject on business anthropology into university studies, especially since we now have a sensitive work to be our reference manual.
The articulation of business anthropology is unavoidable and a priority challenge if we want to provide a future job for the new generations of anthropologists. We must break away from prejudices and begin to build bridges of discussion with economic and business sciences. To provide tomorrow’s anthropology with the necessary tools for the analysis of increasingly complex and changing scenarios, where hyper-consumption, companies, brands, fashion, entrepreneurship or startups take on a major importance and act as a symbolic reference for millions of people.
In this sense, Sergio López’s book is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
You can access the purchase of the book at the following link:
Price printed version: 15.00 €.
Price digital version: 5.00 €.