Ipsos Encyclopedia - Applied Anthropology

Anthropology is at its core the science of human beings, and more specifically, the study of humans and their being in time and space, in relation to physical character, environmental, social, and cultural surroundings.


​Anthropology is at its core the science of human beings, and more specifically, the study of humans and their being in time and space, in relation to physical character, environmental, social, and cultural surroundings. Anthropology is one of the oldest social sciences and yet it is rarely drawn upon in market research. As a discipline, it describes culture, the abyss of learned behaviours, that we struggle to articulate. Due to its ability to make meaning out of the mundane, anthropology has become one of the foundational social sciences from which the others build ideas.

As a body of knowledge, Anthropology gives us insight and guidance on how to interpret behaviours within the daily cultural practices of life. It also gives us a narrative for why culture has developed in a particular way. The use of Applied Anthropology in Market research is important because we always need to understand fundamental human behaviours and cultural landscapes.

By applying anthropology to our research through the use of anthropological principles as research tools, we can interpret cultural behaviours which are not immediately obvious. Anthropological principles provide us with an analytical framework which we can use to organise our findings, and act as guiding principles for how to think about our research. Through the use of Applied Anthropology, we can create hypotheses when setting objectives, and, we can make sense of findings by identifying patterns in human behaviours.

Using Applied Anthropology in Research:

One of the ways in which Ipsos applies anthropology to research, is to use these 11 key principles of anthropology in our research design and analysis:


Individuals are influenced and organised by the path they tread in life, through a series of engrained habits, routines and socialised norms. Habitus is the way in which individuals come to perceive the social and cultural world around them. Consequently, it guides their everyday behaviour.


Based on the experience of exchange, reciprocity relates to the practice of giving and receiving, through objects as well as gestures. Reciprocity brings the material and the emotional world into one place, placing importance on the symbolic nature of objects and the emotional expectation of exchange.


Exoticism is sometimes seen as the charm of the unfamiliar or the creation of an exciting, inaccessible "other". It is often used to sensationalise cultural difference, presenting these desirable "others" –be they people, places or products -as a unified entity with attributes and ways completely different to one's own.


Myths are stories created to give meaning to social order or values. They reflect the underlying human need to find patterns of order in the social world and to combat chaos and disorder. These stories as myths come to express the fears, dreams, goals, anxieties, and ambitions of societies and individuals, as well as the central ideas of the time.


The acquisition of knowledge or the perfection of a skill creates a sense of mastery in a person (or group of people).  At its core, it embodies a desire for self-improvement, which itself can become addictive, as people strive towards an end goal that they may never be able to reach. Mastery is a double-edged sword, as it can create a sense of pride (sometimes falsely), confidence (sometimes unfounded), and power (sometimes corruptive) within individuals.

Imagined Communities

A socially constructed community based on a strong sense of group identity and group acceptance, created and imagined by people who perceive themselves to be part of that group. By processes of inclusion and exclusion, the group consciousness is formed through a separation of 'us' and 'them'.

Social Capital

Social capital is made up of a web of social relations that allow us to thrive –or cause us to struggle when absent. Social capital is what generates social cohesion and connectedness, and it is created through reciprocity, trust, and cooperation between and amongst individuals who make up a social unit. Access to social capital is a determinant of well-being in society.

Rite of Passage

A celebration, emotional experience, or transitional moment in life when an individual leaves one social group to enter another. A rite of passage involves a significant change of status in society, where the individual grows and becomes more enlightened.


The point at which local culture is influenced and reformed by external global trends. Glocal culture celebrates the external influences of globalisation through a cultural norming worldwide. The concept of glocal plays a role in the way we interpret human and social truths.


Our abilities to express ourselves are intrinsically linked to our relationship with objects and things, which become symbolic of our relationships with other people and our place in society. Objects make up our living environment which in turn guides and shapes our behaviour. Materiality is a recognition of the value inherent in an object or brand; ownership infers symbolic value upon the person.


Identity is made up of the qualities, beliefs, personality traits, looks and expressions that define a person or a group. Identity is created through emotional perceptions of the self and of the other, and naturally creates feelings of inclusion and exclusion. It is always in the meeting with the other that the identity of the self is formed.

These 11 principles highlight the key pillars of human culture and thus help us to see patterns in human behaviour by bringing our research back to basics.

ECE - 11 principles of anthropology | IpsosAnother way of applying anthropological thought and current thinking to our research is through the use of our Cultural Insight Network. The network is made up of anthropologist around the world, each with anthropological expertise within a given culture and topic. They provide us with anthropological briefings about the cultural landscape of a particular place and people, giving us an in-depth understanding of the place and the people prior to our own research. Through the Cultural Insight Network, we can access a wealth of anthropological knowledge and current thinking that allow us to highlight core cultural specificities in our research.

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