Anthropology is the study of what makes us human. Anthropologists take a holistic approach to examining the many different aspects of the human experience.

Business anthropology

Business or organisational anthropology applies anthropological methods, particularly ethnography, to understanding and transforming organisational culture and processes. Raising awareness of the hidden, tacit ‘rules’ of behaviour that operate within a given organisational context can powerfully transform an organisation’s culture and outlook.

Contextual enquiry

See ‘participant observation’.

Embodied knowledge

The knowledge, skills, and abilities people gain through experience and that is encapsulated in muscle memory and sensations. This kind of knowledge is often difficult to communicate to others in words, and people are usually unaware of much of their embodied knowledge.


Ethnography is a method for investigating the social and cultural context of human interaction in order to understand its significance to the participants themselves. By observing what people do and talking with them about their experience, ethnographers build up a picture of the conscious and unconscious social and cultural ‘rules’ associated with a specific group, community or organisational context. This works even though members of the group are not themselves fully aware of their own knowledge.

Human-centred design

Human-centered design is an approach that centres the human perspective at every level of the problem solving process. Social science research methods such as ethnography play an important role in uncovering the target community’s needs, values and expectations to inform the design process.

Participant observation

(Also known as Contextual Enquiry) Participant observation involves the researcher studying a group not only by observing members of the group, but also by participating in their activities and talking with them about what they are doing and what that means to them.

Participatory research methods

Participatory research is both an ideology and methodology. The subjects of the research become partners in the research process and their knowledge and capabilities are valued. Principle methods inlude:

  • Contextual Ethnographic Discovery (in-context observation and conversation)
  • In-Depth Interviews
  • Diary Studies
Tacit knowledge

The knowledge, skills, and abilities people gain through experience without conscious reflection or that become so familiar and ingrained that they are not part of conscious awareness. This can include embodied knowledge and the many unstated ‘rules’ and habits of communication and interaction that structure our everyday interactions. As with using language, people use this kind of knowledge without needing to consciously think about the rules. It is not easy to reflect on this knowledge or put it into words. However, when we experience something unfamiliar or when someone breaks an unstated rule, we become more aware of our tacit knowledge. Even so, it is not easy to describe what we know in words.

Unconscious knowledge

See ‘tacit knowledge’ and ‘embodied knowledge’.

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