Opportunities Stories

An Anthropologist Walks into a Business School…

You’re going to business school?!

When I first decided to apply for master’s programmes in business, a lot of my friends were surprised. What was I, an anthropology student at a liberal arts college in the US, doing, applying to business schools in Europe?

Admittedly, I had been sceptical about going to b-school for quite some time. Accounting, operations, and organisation seemed like boring topics that had nothing interesting to offer to me, an anthropology student. But as I thought about it, I realised that these topics were absolutely crucial to any organisation.

Having business skills is useful in whatever firm, organisation, or group you want to join. You might just have to use those organisation frameworks or the accounting knowledge you learned!

Customers in a cafe

Anthropology and business

This post was inspired by Madsbjerg and Rasmussen’s article: An Anthropologist Walks into a Bar. In that article, the two authors (who come from social science and humanities backgrounds) discuss why it is important for businesses to understand the customer beyond just numbers. They specifically use anthropological methods such as ethnography and participant observation. It’s really cool to see how companies use the social sciences to solve business problems!

Quite a few companies are catching on to using those same anthropological methods. What is the experience at a cafe? Why do customers choose certain drinks over others? Futures thinking, for instance, uses the idea of ethnographies of the possible to imagine possible futures and how companies might create or prepare for those futures.

In a world so dominated by ideas about big data, it’s great to know that we aren’t all just reducible to a bunch of numbers.


The Two Disciplines

I was in my final lecture for my research methods course when I talked to the lecturer about my background. She had a PhD in anthropology and she currently teaches cross-cultural management at a business school in Germany. This is what she told me:

“Disciplines are as related as you make them to be.”

I think it’s really easy to find differences between disciplines on the surface level. But really, isn’t it all about human behaviour? Markets are inherently about how people behave in a system of exchange. Gift-giving is also a form of exchange, albeit one that entangles individuals in relationships. Seen in that way, disciplines are more related than on first glance. So I can always relate anthropology and business!

By isolating disciplines, we reduce the possibilities for collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas. I like to think that thinking across disciplines will allow us to solve more societal and human problems.

A little note on the MBM programme at SSE

The great thing about SSE’s MSc in Business and Management is that you don’t need to have a background in business to apply!

We also accept candidates with a bachelor degree in any field of studies and no or little background in Business Administration. (Source)

At the SSE open house in mid-October, a few people asked me if they could apply to the programme with a background in political science, law, etc. Absolutely!

The surprising thing I’ve discovered about having a background in anthropology is that it has helped me to see the relationships between the various ideas and make sense of the broader theories that scholars use. When I studied anthropology, it was a lot about drawing connections and relating ideas to each other. That’s exactly what we have to do when we talk about innovation and markets in our programme.

SSE Entrance
Photo by Juliana Wiklund

So if you studied anthropology, political science, or even engineering, and you’re interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, think about applying to MBM programme at the Stockholm School of Economics! 

Early deadline: 15 November 2017

Regular deadline: 15 January 2018

More details here: https://www.hhs.se/en/Education/MSc/mbm1/