Journeying into the business world... one undiscovered culture at a time

Welcome to [Per]Suit of Anthropology, a blog dedicated to the exploration of modern business trends and perspectives from the view of anthropologist, with a special emphasis on cultural understandings of work-life balance and disability rights in the workplace. This blog is a way for me to connect two sides of my professional self that I see in constant dialogue. Though the business world and the anthropological world may not believe it - they have more in common and more to learn from one another than readily acknowledged. Topics covered include: Western business practices and the impact of those decisions on socio-cultural institutions worldwide, invisible disabilities, Ignatian spirituality, work-life balance, and some discussion of issues of tourism and its impacts on culture, and common human capital practices in private industry and government.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Class Warfare or a New Realm of 'Cultures?'

In an interesting post on Truth Dig, professor Juan Cole discusses the implications of the class warfare that has sparked the Occupy Movements, and how or why students in universities tend to be one of the major populations supporting the movements. There are a number of items that Professor Cole discusses, but the one of most interest to me is the dialectic Mr. Cole proposes that places academic institutions as in line with 'Big Business.'

The theme of Prof. Cole's premise that academia is being influenced by the culture of business to provide goods (i.e. students) that then have marketable (read: can make businesses more money) skills, has also been highlighted in recent times. Back in late October, Governor Rick Scott of Florida stating that

"We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on, those types of degrees, so when they get out of school, they can get a job." (Courtesy the Marc Bernier show)

Needless to say, this comment caused a lot of stir among anthropologists who immediately came to the defense stating the benefits of anthropology. One of the more interesting items was an opinion article in the Economist, which illustrated the work of Ms. Gillian Tett, who has produced some amazing studies on the culture that preceeded the 2008 financial crisis.

For me, what I find interesting about all these articles is this dialectic that is set up between the 'soft' studies and those of a more technical nature. Much has been writtend on this in both the Chronicle of Higher Education, popular business magazines and more. However, what Ms. Tett alluded to in the economist article - that is that many foks regardless of their occupation are so mired in their own worlds that they fail to see what else is going on around them. I would argue that this is true both in the case of the students involved in OWS as well as Academic institutions and big banks. Everyone is looking through their own lens at a set of very complex interactions that help to define our world. Students do not fully understand the complexities of all the decisions being made - and often tend to demonize 'the man,' when in fact many of these organizations are made up of real people who are trying to do the best they can in a very odd world. Academia is also responding to some very real economic constraints (I don't think forced upon them by the banking institutions, but definitely helped), and are trying to figure how their institutions are going to survive over the next five, ten, fifteen, fifty or hundred years.  Now, granted, I don't think that institutions need to go as far as the Quebecois government has in increasing the tuition rates of its universities an exorbitant amount, but a school does need some basic funding to be able to function.

Business are trying to survive as well. The most common thing I hear in my job is the need for all employers (regardless of industry) to need "smart" people in their jobs. Often there is a misconception that this includes students from "the best" institutions - and in order to maintain top positions, these best institutions often tailor the emphasis of where their money is funded in order to help graduates obtain jobs (one of the measures utilized in college rankings). The business want folks who will help them achieve their mission to make money - and that is part of their culture. Part of their definition of who they are - just as an academic institutions mission is to educate for success (what ever that 'success' may mean).

In our culture today we face a very real fact that money drives everything; as illustrated in my post yesterday, even places and people which we deem 'sacred' are monetized.  For one, I think that it is about time we had another "Jesus moment," where he comes into the temple and upends the tables of all those selling goods and wares in His father's house.  By that, I mean that the only way we can fight against the system of everything needing to have dollars and cents aligned to it (whether business or academia) is to know the enemy, know how to use it, and know how to disprove it.  Gone are the days, for many, when the pursuit of higher education or meaningful careers can and should be pursued for the betterment of the person.  The impetus now lays directly on the shoulders of the said individual to prove how he or she, by way of finding fulfillment can be a better student, professor, worker, and member of society.  If you can show that in terms of efficiency, money, or time spent completing tasks - even better.  Ultimately I do believe that we are in a pendulum swing where money means everything, and I have no doubt the pendulum will swing the other way.  However, until that time I believe it behooves everyone to be able to understand the language of the 'other' and utilize new and different arguments to further expand your own.

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