I was smitten with the discipline of anthropology when I met my first applied consumer anthropologist. It was 2000 in San Francisco. I was a new account planner/research strategist at Hal Riney Advertising. The advertising agency had just hired two applied anthropologists (Patricia Sunderland and Rita Denny) to conduct foundational research for creative development. Up until this point, I had approached consumption using a psychological frame. My PhD in Advertising from the University of Texas taught me to think in terms of consumer relationships, emotions, information processing, needs, cognition and attitude to the brand. In contrast, the applied anthropologists introduced me to a cultural frame that illuminated the interwoven meaning of consumption practices. I was hooked.
Since this introduction to applied anthropology, I learned ethnographic methods through hands-on learning, a version of intellectual osmosis. I first worked as a freelance researcher for Practica, an anthropology research consultancy. Then I joined the firm as a partner.
Working closely with anthropologists has made me somewhat of a purist. Many researchers try to conduct ethnographic style research, but it is the academically trained anthropologists who have the theoretical prowess for in-depth analysis.
In search of theoretical prowess and community, I am pursuing a Master’s in applied anthropology at the University of North Texas. My focus is on consumer media anthropology.