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.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Politics of Knowledge and the Elite-ing of the Entrepreneur

My first day at the American Anthropological Association has been a complete blur.  The behemoth that they call a program guide, and the mass of anthropologists convening in the hotel lobby have left me at once breathless, amazed and, as one professor put it "bright-eyed and bushy tailed!"  So much to learn, so many people to meet, so many opportunities to expand my mind.

However, some of my earliest sessions quickly put a damper, or rather lifted the veil of ignorance/naivete that  I had on prior to attending the conference.  I went to one session early yesterday morning, with two very distinguished professors, Dr. George Mentore (UVA) and Dr. Michael Harking (U of Wyoming), both of whom are or have been editors of major Anthropological journals.  They were giving a workshop on how to get published in a peer reviewed anthropological journal.  I found what tidbits they gave to be quite interesting, and not too surprising.  For example, don't just write something because you think you ought to - write something because you believe in it.  Write something you can defend, that you have done your research on, etc.  They explained that often young writers are 'run through the gauntlet' of professional academics who will challenge their ideas and assumptions, purely because they can.  However, if you fully agree with and stand by your statement, that it is not worth sacrificing the integrity of your views, just to have a gold star of a "published author" next to your name.  

Then Dr. Mentore said a phrase that caught my attention.  He called it the "Politics of Knowledge," that is knowing who you are writing for, his or her views, and how you can state your own views to advance your own career, without pissing off the 'academic elite' (my words).  The phrase Politics of Knowledge really struck a chord with me, as a knowledge worker.  Much of what I do, or rather the consulting industry, the political industry, the media and much of what we consider white collar workers do is distribute knowledge.  Professors, too, and the education industry fall in this category as well.  As the economic trends of the 21st century have emerged and legitimized themselves, we begin to see that the economy of the future is one of knowledge (re) distribution.  The old moniker "Knowledge is Power" comes to mind.  And yet, the advent of the online medium for sharing knowledge has cast a light on the power structures within the knowledge economy.  

Bill Eggers writes in a recent article that in the new economy, workers will have to redefine themselves (and their skill sets) approximately every five years to remain relevant.  And that the knowledge one learns in college is no longer useful about five years into the professional workplace.  So then, if knowledge is power and there is a politics to knowledge, are the new social castes of the future going to be played out in who owns the knowledge, and who is seen as "gatekeepers" of the legitimacy of your knowledge?  Who will be the tenured professors of the future who, with the stroke of a pen (or a keypad) can legitimize or forever destroy ones' career?  

My theory is one that came from another talk at the AAA conference.  One by a graduate student, Leslie Mitts of University of Pennsylvania who argues that the new elite class is that of the entrepreneur - specifically those entrepreneurs who are employed within accelerator organizations.  She argues that these accelerators recruit like minded people, often from the same institutions of legitimacy as the Ivy League schools - perpetuating a an intense cycle of elitist knowledge holding and idea generation that is becoming harder and harder for the true average-joe entrepreneurs to crack.  And there is a new form of a co-presence of space in these accelerators, creating a whole new community, to which many want to belong (even if for a few months).  It is become another stamp or seal of approval to prove ones worth as an "independent and innovative thinker."  

I see it here in San Francisco  where you can't throw a stone without hitting  a so-called entrepreneur.  But yet, the very definition of an entrepreneur, as someone who "one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise," with its root in the word 'enterprise' meaning "a project or undertaking that is especially difficult, complicated, or risky" is by its definition very vague and non-descript (definitions courtesy of Merriam Webster's Dictionary).  There is no limitation, nor should there be, to who can be an entrepreneur.  So then why in this new world of increasing focus on innovation and becoming the next Steve Jobs has it become something only the elite classes can accomplish to be taken legitimate?  

I believe in the next few years we need to be very careful and purposeful about how we manage knowledge - and the attitudes we take when sharing.  The beauty of the internet is that it allows for sharing, whether its an online blog that supersedes the 'institution' of a peer-reviewed journal, or that of an average person being able to learn about a new skill set or a new trade without having to pay for an expensive education - the lines of legitmacy of knowledge are being drawn.  We need to make certain that it is inclusive, and really come to question what isthe politics of knowledge - and how is it that we play as actors within it.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Wine, running, voting and the anthropologist

I lifted the glass to my nose, inhaling deeply as the smell of earth, trees, leaves, and fresh air wafted up to my nose.  The slight acidity of grapes punctuated the fragrance, tingling all the way down to my toes.  I lifted the glass up, the purple liquid translucent in the sun.  "Swish, swish, swish."  The trails of the liquid on the side of the glass ran like fingers slowly to the bottom of the cup - tracing patterns of an art project long forgotten in the realms of the mind.  Finally, I lifted the glass to my lips - the liquid strong and pungent - rolling over my lips and tongues like liquid velvet.  I hold the liquid in my mouth for a moment, breathing in air like a whistle over the top to properly allow the full flavor of the wine to examine my senses.

I smile, I write down my thoughts, "Tastes of pepper and blackberries," - and smile at the wine maker, "good wine!"

I put on the requisite equipment, moisture wicking material combined with enough layers to provide warmth but not hold my sweat against my skin.  I tie my shoelaces once, twice.  I position my watch on my wrist so that I can examine the time minimally without breaking strides, adjust my hat and ponytail and venture outside.  The cold air hits me like a blast but off I go...  one, two (breathe in) three, four (breathe out)... my feet pound the pavement.  Past the cemetery, across the bridge, and onto the Mall I go.  I pass visitors along the way, trying my best not to photo bomb, all the while my eyes fixed on the Capital in the distance, looming nearer with each step.  Pausing only for cars, and the occasional massive tour group, my body gets in a groove, like a well oiled machine.  Five, six, seven eight miles go by as I pass monuments to the great purveyors of our nation - salutes to the fallen, till I finally arrive back home, my mind coming out of a fog that only a long distance runner understands.

My hands are an icy mess - I cannot feel my fingers.  My stomach rumbles with hunger - I typically eat before leaving the house in a rush.   I stand in a line that weaves back and forth on itself, my neighbors engaged in hushed conversation (not wanting to break any rules).  I finally make it inside the school, only to find myself with another 100 people still waiting in line.  I finally arrive at the front, my ID checked, my ballot given, I go up to a machine to exercise a right for which so many valiantly fought.  For a moment I am reminded that I stand on sacred ground - a ground which so many helped pave, and many still crave to participate in.  Amid the tumult of the pre-election season, and the me versus the other mentality that pervades, I look around me, at the shared community of voters and citizens, I smile, push my buttons and move on in my day....

All these reflections above represent sacred rituals (both formal, but mainly informal) in which I've participated in the past two weeks.  Going to a winery for a tasting, going for a long distance run, and voting are all parts of shared experiences that are, at one time, a reflection of my own experiences and yet something shared within communities both recognized (like that of a voting precinct) and those a little less understood (the long distance runners groupies).  Nevertheless, each group has within it certain sacred practices, and sacred spaces.  Be it a bar in a winery - where you are meant to learn, discern and ultimately buy,  or the sacred space of a running path - where there are rules of etiquette on passing fellow runners.  Or more formally in the voting booths, where numerous discussion have been had in recent weeks on who 'belongs' to the community or not.

These topics all reflect the broader theme of this year's American Anthropological Association meeting "Borders & Crossings."  I am already excited at the themes to discover in the next few days, and I look forward to meeting many of my peers.  Now the question is - any suggestions on sessions to attend?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Presenting at the NAPA Expo

Attention all Anthropologists!  For those of you attending the AAA meetings in two weeks, just wanted to let you know that I will be hosting a booth at the NAPA Careers Expo on Friday from 11am - 4pm.  Please feel free to stop by, and say hi.  I will also be tweeting at @beth_schill.