Anthropology in Industry Meetup, Tuesday 12th August

Immersive visual methodologies, learning the language of business and the need to break free from academic ways of thinking were just some of the themes to emerge from the latest Anthropology in Industry event, hosted by TES Global on Tuesday 12th August.

Our guest speaker was Nazima Kadir, who described her many experiences in the field, from urban policy in New York City, via researching a Squat in Amsterdam and book deal with Bloomsbury to her current role as Head of Insight at Human Innovation. Nazima has recently been experimenting with the use of video to produce engaging and immersive research findings, as well as a training tool in phenomenological methods.

Nazima then opened up a wider audience-led discussion of the key challenges faced by anthropologists working in industry.

Among the key things to emerge was the fact that many anthropologists move into careers that are not explicitly anthropological in nature and there is a tension in making the transition between academia and business. While sectors such as design and strategy seem to call on many anthropological techniques, there remains a disjuncture between academic training and the realities of working in industry.

It was at this point that the post it notes and sharpies came out and we began a workshop to flesh out some of the themes of the discussion. Tellingly, many of the points raised centred on a lack of knowledge of the language, the goals and practices of the business world when leaving academia.

In search of some solutions to the challenges facing anthropologists in academia, attendees offered some pretty candid advice to their younger selves. Pooling together this advice produced the following list:

  • Step outside of studying in academia to build another set of other skills and experiences. Do research where writing isn’t the end goal.
  • Get in touch with non-academics and make connections with people and organisations you want to work with. Share your academic work with them and ask for feedback. Publish your work in places such as industry mags, personal blogs and LinkedIn.
  • Tell stories and use analogies to help non-academics to understand your work and analysis. Use the broad brush strokes illustrated with small examples.
  • Accept that the speed and pace of the industry you work in is not going to allow you to produce detailed ethnography that academia prizes. Instead, think about the skills anthropology teaches and look for jobs which require those skills. Make links between your training and the types of responsibilities listed on job postings to see where you can make a difference.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions and open debate at work. Other people may be more flexible and open to new ideas than you expect. Ask yourself – do they really know the answer to that? But don’t act like you are superior!
  • Take a break from both anthropology and industry and do something else from time to time. Keep studying and learning even after you leave school and read outside of your sector to build and develop your knowledge.

This list provides a helpful starting point for anthropologists working in or transitioning into industry. We’re keen for this to develop as more people add their knowledge and experience to the group.

What would you add? Join the conversation and share your experiences, questions or advice for your younger self on our Facebook and LinkedIn groups.

A massive thanks to Nazima Kadir for sharing her experiences, for TES Global and Caitlin McDonald for hosting and to everyone who attended and contributed to an engaging and insightful evening. We’re already thinking ahead to the next one. Watch this space for future announcements!


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