I was invited to be part of the anthropology career day on April 13 at my old faculty in Leiden. Despite the fact that I had planned to eat cake all day (due to some serious birthday-reasons), I took part and was given a great gift: INSPIRATION!
I started blogging about anthroprofessionals because of my own quest to what distinguishes me as an anthropologist. What will I be able to bring to a / any workplace that makes me stand out? I never took time to reflect on this and it was never stimulated to think outside the academic box. But, for the future anthropologists times have changed, hurray!
Here’s a little recap of the day (photo credits go to Simone van Dijk, thank you!)
The day began with some workshops about, for example, pitching and building a decent résumé. I tuned in for the speeddating part of the program. I can’t deny I felt a tiny bit intimidated when I received the list of other speeddaters. All of them where a few (or a million) steps ahead of me in figuring out their career path. ‘But hey, at least the students will have fun when they arrive at my table’
The speeddates were very inspirational. Why did the students choose anthropology? What were their specific interests and how were they planning to translate all of this into a career? I hope to have shown that you can apply anthropology in many different careers. I work at Effectory, a company that specializes in employee satisfaction research. With my background I approach ’employees’ the same way as I would approach a group of indigenous people. How do they give meaning to their work or what types of relations are at stake and how could this be improved? As an anthropologist you can always add value by putting your anthropologists’ eye to work. So search for that angle and you will always have an interesting story to tell. FLAUNT IT!
And of course there were drinks afterwards! I’ve met some great alumni’s during the ‘borrel’, more on them in later posts
Time to tell you a little about my master’s thesis!
For my ‘academic masterpiece’ I chose to dive into fashion and ethnography. Antwerp became my field of study and the fashion students my main subject. The Antwerp fashion scene can best be described as avantgardistic and has been shaped by the iconic ‘Antwerp Six’ in the early eighties.
The Antwerp Six:
The fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp is an important place where the cutting edge mindset is being passed on to new generations. The academy approaches fashion as something the students can deploy to give meaning to their environment. Can you imagine I was extremely curious to find out more?
During my fieldwork I was lucky enough to intern at the MoMu Fashion Museum. The MoMu and the fashion department share a building, therefore the internship has been crucial in enabling me to enter the shielded world of the students.
Overwhelmed by the flamboyant atmosphere it took me 2/3 of my fieldwork time to really get through the surface of the independent designers. I discovered a wide variety of ways in which the students make use of assistance. A student from Eastern Europe brought this topic to my attention. He often sewed garments or drew patterns for his classmates in order to be able to pay for his education. Also, many of the Japanese students had Japanese co-workers assisting them in return for food, shelter and most importantly experience.
By the time I was finally figuring out some of these substantial stories, it was time to go home. To make up for this sudden departure, I will dedicate a few posts to my beloved Antwerp in the near future.
Sometimes anthropology comes in a cute package: meet Jessica!
Jess seriously committed to anthropology at a point in her career where she had already left university. Her passion for the field began evolving after meeting an anthropologist through work. She decided to take some anthropology courses on the side and found herself at a point of no return.
After an undergraduate in Sociology & Business and postgraduate in Public Relations, she has been working in PR and Journalism. Therefore, her focus on political and economical anthropology comes as no surprise. She will dig into how socially and politically changing landscapes influence labor markets.
The moment I met Jess, she was about to leave for fieldwork in Indonesia to study the topic of democracy by means of unraveling the story on ‘stringers’. These are freelance correspondents hired by the Indonesian government that report ad-hoc on events in particular places. This type of journalism often leads to so-called ‘surface reporting’, consequently undermining democratic press.
For a large part, it has been the experience outside academia that shaped Jessica’s interest in the social element of labor and media whereas anything outside academics is often considered a compromise. A real pity because only a small amount of students will work in academia after graduating. I strongly believe in the power of a closer link between academia and ‘the real world’. Universities should support other avenues, like internships, or give more information about life after academia.
Is yoga a sport?’
A former Adidas Vice President has once posed the above question. It perfectly shows that there can be a disconnection between what companies think customers want and what customers actually want. Surprise, surprise: anthropological research helped Adidas to shift their focus from competitive performance to urban sports.
Anthropological research can apparently reveal vital information about customers. Red Associates is an example of a company that’s putting the Human Sciences to work to help companies like Samsung, Intel, Lego and – as shown above – Adidas. They develop insights into how and why customers make decisions.
When I was in Toronto I met the lovely Jess. She has been working in PR & journalism before she became an anthropologist – more on her later! -. She told me everything about her interest in the social element of labor and media: ‘The word ‘brand’ allows organizations to indulge themselves in all kinds of silly ideas that they’d like to believe about the relationship between themselves and their customers’. Idea Couture is an organization that helps brands to transform into ‘fulfilling unmet, unknown and unarticulated customer needs’. Idea Couture does so with a multidisciplinary team consisting of anthropologists, ethnographers, human factor specialists, etc.
I recommend watching this short video for a clear explanation on this! Click on the picture to watch.
Closer to home we have Fronteer Strategy, a Dutch company, founded by the very fashionable anthropologist James Veenhoff. Veenhoff and his team are experts in co-creation. They bring together a wide variety of experts and stakeholders and thereby strive for innovation that benefits both organizations and customers. Cool!
Anthropologists can also be of use within the pharmaceutical industry. By gaining an understanding of how patients comprehend their conditions and how their lifestyle can be changed, pharmaceuticals can widen their array of products and thereby target the patients’ problems better. But, are the above roles always ethical? Would you want to contribute to increasing consumption or a smarter pharmaceutical industry? That’s one to think about!
Dress for Success Toronto
Traveling comes with surprises everyday. I have been lucky enough to meet the beautiful Carolyn, a volunteer at Dress for Success in Toronto. She kindly invited me to come over and have a look.
This is her!
Dress for Success is a non-profit organization aiming to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing them with a professional wardrobe and a network of support. Since 1997 DfS has helped over 700.000 women worldwide. Don’t you think dressing up is an instant confidence booster? For me it is!
So, how does it work? Women are (and must be) referred to DfS by a wide variety of non-profit or government agencies. After an intake interview the fun begins. A personal dresser will help the women to find an appropriate – fabulous! – outfit. Shoes, jewelry, undergarments and purse included. When a woman finds a job, she can come back for another three outfits.
Don’t we all have clothes we never wear? You can support Dress for Success by donating those garments. You can also make a donation or become a volunteer. DfS provides women with a support system that goes beyond dressing, it’s the complete empowering package. Thank you Carolyn for introducing me, I will spread the word. To all my fashionable Dutch friends out there, we have DfS locations as well!
I only just found out Barack Obama’s mother was an Anthropologist. And since I am in Washington D.C. right now, I figured it would make an appropriate blogpost!
In 1995 Obama’s book ‘Dreams from my father’ was published. Reviews at that time frequently pointed out the way Obama only briefly referred to his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, as ‘a white anthropologist from Kansas’, ‘a single mother on food stamps’ or ‘the woman who died of cancer’.
In response, ‘A singular woman’ sheds light on her life and the relationship with her son. Worth a read?
The wonderful Amah!
A PhD might not be the most surprising start of an anthropological career. Nevertheless, I think it’s a great opportunity and I admire both the candidate and her subject! I met Amah at the Vlisco exhibition at the 2013 Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. She immediately stole my heart, here’s why:
Amah has intellectually challenged herself in diverse academic territories – a BSc in Political Science at MIT followed by an MSc in Public Health at Harvard -. After 3 years of community based work with HIV infected children in Zambia she returned to the United States quickly finding herself disappointed in the obvious job descriptions. The search for a position that enabled her to combine all her interests eventually led to yet another academical endeavor at MIT: a PhD in Anthropology! Way to go woman.
Starting a PhD must feel like an enormous mountain to climb. Amah admitted she felt overwhelmed thinking about the years ahead. First the years of classes, endlessly reading books. Then a full year of studying and weekly meet ups with her professor all for the sake of acing those general exams. Which would only be the beginning.
So, what’s her research about? Amah crossed paths with Dutch professor Annemarie Mol who pointed her in the direction of Vlisco. Vlisco is a Dutch company specialized in making ‘Dutch wax’ fabrics for the West African market. The main question of Amah’s research is ‘How did Dutch wax become West African?’. The answer to this question is laid in multiple smaller stories.
– How does value change? Through use / consumption, an object not only attains monetary value but also emotional value.
– What does the label ‘Dutch’ do? Whats the history of the label, how did it gain value and what purpose does it serve?
– How do West African consumers of the Vlisco fabrics understand the Dutch label? How did that understanding evolve and what’s the difference between the Dutch and West African understanding of it?
– How do love and labor intertwine? Vlisco calls itself a ‘love brand’: people ‘love’ our product, people ‘love’ working at Vlisco. How do consumers talk about the cloth and how does marketing interpret this discourse and put it to work for Vlisco?
– How did the sensory experience of the Vlisco materials become virtualized? A look at the social media interaction as part of Vlisco’s new strategy.
Isn’t it amazing? Good luck Amah!