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Consuming anthropology

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Abstract

As a development project within the imaginaries of the ‘knowledge economy’, making useful knowledge seems to imply less interdisciplinarity than antidisciplinarity. Or to put it another way, the incorporation of academic disciplines into economic activity is assumed to require their appropriate transformation. Through a history traceable at least to the labour ‘unrest’ of the 1930s, American anthropologists along with others in the then emerging behavioural and social sciences have worked to legitimise themselves as relevant to industry (Eddy and Partridge 1987). My focus in this paper is on a recent chapter in this history: the incorporation of anthropology, as both figure and practice, within industrial research and development in the United States beginning in the 1970s.1 More specifically, I examine the frames within which anthropology is imagined as valuable to contemporary industry, particularly in the area that I know best: the design of information and communications technologies. How is anthropology positioned both within these frames, and in relation to what Callon (1998a) has identified as their constitutive outsides or overfl ows?