BASS Sociology and Criminology

Year of entry: 2024

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

Course unit fact file
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


Anthropologists study human culture and social organization. Businesses around the world make use of anthropology to understand how people make use of products and services and to help them understand the social implications of, and opportunities presented by, digital technologies. Companies such as Facebook, Google and Intel rely on the expertise of anthropologists in their User Experience and Design Teams. Anthropological methods and insights inform the working approaches of the leading consultancy companies influencing global brands. This course introduces students to the emerging field of Business Anthropology. The course explores 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: consumer experience, consumer identity, homemaking and identity, branding and co-creation, ethical consumption, corporate social responsibility and product design. The course explores these issues using a mix of accessible sources, including film clips, news articles and websites, academic research and examples from contemporary companies such as Ikea, McDonalds and Canada Goose 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 a short practical exercise (10%) and one 1500 word essay.



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 importance of understanding culture for business organisations, how businesses use anthropology to gain insights on consumer behaviour and how design anthropology informs the development of more responsive products, experiences and services.



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

This course will be delivered through ten on campus lectures supported by small group classes (tutorials). Materials supporting each topic are provided on line through Blackboard.



Assessment methods

The assessment for this course consists of:

  • 500 word observation exercise (10%)
  • 1500 word essay to be submitted via Turnitin (90%)


Feedback methods

Students will receive online personalised feedback on the Observation Exercise and feedback on their written essays. Feedback is also provided in class through interaction with your Class Tutor.

Recommended reading

Jordan, A 2010 the Importance of Business Anthropology: Its Unique Contributions, International Journal of Business Anthropology, 1(1), 15-26.,

Denny, R & Sunderland 2010  Framing Cultural Questions: What is Coffee in Benton Harbor and Bangkok?, Chapter 3 of their (eds) Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research, Left Coast Press,57-79,

Ladner S 2014 Introduction to her Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector, Routledge, p 11-19,

Garvey, P 2018 Consuming IKEA and Inspiration as Material Form, in Clarke, A Design Anthropology. Object Cultures in Transition, Bloomsbury, 101-114,

Garvey, P 2013 `Ikea Sofas are like H & M Trousers’: The  Potential of Sensuous Signs, Journal of Business Anthropology 2 (1), 75-92.  

McCracken, G., 1988. The evocative power of things: consumer goods and the preservation of hopes and ideals. Culture and consumption: new approaches to the symbolic character of consumer goods and activities, pp.104-17,

Kawamura, Y 2016  Sneakers as a Subculture: Emerging from Underground to Upperground, Chapter 3 of her Sneakers. Fashion, Gender, Subculture, Bloomsbury, p 37-58., Matejowsky, T., 2008. Jolly Dogs and McSpaghetti: Anthropological Reflections on Global/Local Fast-Food Competition in the Philippines. Journal of Asia-Pacific Business, 9(4), pp.313-328.

Wilk, R., 2006. Bottled water: the pure commodity in the age of branding. journal of Consumer Culture, 6(3), pp.303-325.

Brydges, T & Hracs, B 2018 Consuming Canada:  How Fashion Firms Leverage the Landscape to Create and Communicate Brand Identities, Distinction and Values, Geoforum 90, 108-118.,

Nakassis, C.V., 2012. Counterfeiting what? Aesthetics of brandedness and brand in Tamil Nadu, India. Anthropological Quarterly, pp.701-721,

Schembri, S 2009 Reframing Brand Experiences: The Experiential Meaning of Harley Davidson, Journla of Business Research 62, 1299-1310,

Miller, C.F., 2019. ‘Glorified Janitors:’ Creativity, cachet, and everyday experiences of work in Portland, Oregon’s craft brewing sector. Geoforum106, pp.78-86.,

Gershon, I., 2014. Selling your self in the United States. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review37(2), pp.281-295.

Cabrera, G 2014 Building an Applied Anthropology Career in  Business and Industry, Practicing Anthropology 36 (2), 22-26.




Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Maia Green Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Length of Course: 12 weeks


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