Flashback Friday #7: Anthropology of the Consumer from 2008


Please note:  This is a podcast from a past meeting that is being re-posted as part of our new “Flashback Friday” program.  We hope you  will enjoy this and the many other podcasts from our library which can be found on the Short Cut To Podcasts page.  

Donna M. Romeo (FritoLay Inc)

Opening Hearts, Opening Minds: Anthropology’s Role at JC Penney Co.
Over the past few years, an increasing number of anthropologists have entered the realm of consumer research. Today, applied anthropologists who focus on consumer issues are found working in a broad array of Fortune 500 companies, consulting firms, advertising agencies, and academia. All have accumulated “know-how” – valuable insights, and tales both good and bad, from the field. How does applying anthropology within business transform business, anthropology, and anthropologists? What insights can be garnered from these experiences, both positive and negative? This session will explore methodological, practical, and ethical issues practitioners confront in applying anthropology to solving real world business problems.

Patricia L. Sunderland and Rita M. Denny (Practica Group LLC)

Business Practices and Anthropological Practice
Anthropologists in business must come to grips with the practices of business writ both large and small. This paper addresses some of those practices through telling the tale of a particular study (when not much went right). More generally this paper examines some of the business practices which perplex, enmesh and sometimes ensnare: the ubiquitous practice of consumer segmentation; the multiplicity of voices having a say in project implementation; making pre-interview “homework” assignments work methodologically and theoretically. In the end, we suggest that success can only be achieved by embracing and managing the tensions – between meeting needs of business and retaining one’s anthropological voice.

Mark Rogers and Liz Rogers

Beyond “Ethnography” in Consumer Anthropology
Ethnography has been increasingly touted in the business world as the next great tool to get close to customers, develop successful new products, and even drive winning business strategies. At the same time, ethnography is gradually being transformed from a social scientific research approach into a branch of market research that simply involves “going out into the field.” As a result, anthropologists working in business run the risk of being pigeonholed as the researchers who bring back field data for others to interpret and act (or not act) upon. This paper discusses the relationship between gathering and reporting on field data (consumer ethnography) and understanding and championing field-based insights (consumer anthropology) through case studies from the authors’ personal experiences.

Maryann McCabe (Cultural Connections)

Representation of Consumers: Feat and Folly in the Luxury Car Market
Anthropologists conducting consumer research have the responsibility to recognize the role of material culture in identity and sociality. Representing consumers affects their ability to create the self through material culture. Representation in consumer research has focused largely on targeting minority groups. This paper expands the topic to include mainstream segments who buy luxury goods. Contrary to criticism of luxury purchases as overly materialistic, this paper relies on the concept of objects saturated with symbols that give meaning to consumer practices. Two case studies demonstrate the impact of hearing the consumer’s voice and re-frame the materialism debate in terms of agency and meaning management.

Charles Darrah (San Jose State U)


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Session took place in Memphis, TN at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology in March 2008.

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