Cultural Analysis At Work

Academia and Society – There And Back Again

“An anthropologist and an ethnologist walk into a film club…” might sound like the set-up line of an academic in-joke, but it is more or less a literal description of the event that set the wheels rolling on starting this. During a screening of Some like it hot, an anthropologist named Sara – working with intercultural communication – and an ethnologist named Elias, employed as a business ethnographer, met and struck up a conversation. Soon they found out they had a lot in common. Both had contended with questions about what kind of “real job” one can get by studying cultural sciences seemingly a million times before. Both had experienced how the cultural analytical perspectives they had learned during their education had great potential for contributing to society. And both felt privileged to have found “real jobs” where they could put these perspectives to work and help people and organizations develop their awareness of the cultural aspects of everyday life. Finally, both had been contacted by students of cultural analysis who were looking for advice about career paths which were not the ones leading up the stairs of the university’s ivory tower. While both felt that they had been given a vast toolbox of analytical concepts and explorative methods, little in the way of direction and few concrete examples of applied research had been given. In short, both found there to be a lack of alternative role-models and case studies within their respective disciplines.

These personal experiences can hardly be seen as isolated testimony, but are indicative of overarching tendencies within academia. In general, there is a mounting pressure on the social sciences and the humanities to prove their “usefulness” to society and students are demanding a greater emphasis on skills that lead to employment (O’Dell & Willim 2011:2Smilie: 8). Many disciplines seem ill-prepared to face these demands. Self-presentation is rarely, if ever, a part of the education, and the pathways to distinct professions are vague at best (Damsholt & Löfgren 2008:92). At the same time, there seems to be a growing demand for “soft” knowledge and qualitative perspectives, like ethnographic research, within the world of business – although it is not always understood how such knowledge should be put to use (Sylow 2008:23). There is, in other words, more than one gap between what is supplied and what is demanded when it comes to education in cultural analysis (like in many other academic disciplines).

During the two years that have passed since the initial meeting, the conversation has been going strong, and it is far from over! This blog, Cultural Analysis at Work, is a way of expanding that conversation and inviting others to join it. Cultural analysts from around Scandinavia will participate and share their thoughts on how, where, and when we can apply our skills and our knowledge. The goal is to provide that which we longed for as students of cultural analysis: Concrete examples of applied research, stories of successfully implemented projects as well as role models who put cultural analysis to work in society. We set out to achieve this by asking ethnologist and anthropologists that have inspired us to tell their stories about working outside of academia. A few examples of questions that will be discussed in these stories are:

• Where are the perspectives of anthropology, ethnology and cultural analysis missing in society today?
• In what ways can we put our skills, perspectives, and experiences to work in our professional lives?
• What should all students of cultural analysis know before entering into working life?
• In what ways can traditional, academic tools be developed or adapted in new contexts?

The first of every month, we will publish stories of people putting cultural analysis to work – showing a wide reach of applications. Through Cultural Analysis at Work we want to provide students of our respective disciplines with positive stories, illuminating their potential. The goal not to establish what cultural analysis is, but rather what it can be, what paths it can open and which experiences it may lead to. We hope that this might contribute to bridging any perceived gap between the “in here” of academia and an imagined “out there”, showing that our perspectives and skills can provide more than knowledge of “mere” academic interest.

Our readers will be able to follow the progress of the project here on the ethnographic knowledge node and eventually we will gather this on our own site, stay tuned!

Elias Mellander is a Ph.D. candidate in ethnology at the Department of Cultural Sciences at University of Gothenburg. In his dissertation he examines the post-graduation careers of former students of European Ethnology in Scandinavia. He holds a MA in Applied Cultural Analysis and has previously worked as an ethnographic consultant.

Sara Wallén has applied social anthropology in her own social entrepreneurial enterprise and as a consultant for clients. Sara has incomplete MA in social anthropology, and a BA from the Kaospilots. Sara is currently fulfilling her third university education, studying to become a psychologist and works as at Forandringsfabrikken in Norway.


Damsholt, Tine & Orvar Löfgren (200Smilie: 8): “Epilogue”. Cecilia Fredriksson & Håkan Jönsson (eds.) ETN: Job, Lund: Lund University.

O’Dell, Tom & Robert Willim (2011): ”Composing Ethnography”. Ethnologia Europea 41:1, 27-40, Copenhagen, Museum Tusculanums Förlag.

Sylow, Mine (200Smilie: 8): “Tempting French Fries”. Cecilia Fredriksson & Håkan Jönsson (eds.) ETN: Job, Lund: Lund University.

Category(s): Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *