Re: Naive question

Shannon Adams (
Tue, 10 Dec 1996 10:21:28 -0800

Ted wrote:
> So, in attempting to understand human behavior, the emic looks to, say,
> the momentum of tradition, for example, rather than economic, ecological,
> or functional reasons behind behavior...? Or are emic analyses more
> concerned with description than explanation?
> Again, forgive me for stumbling around these ideas. Can anyone recommend
> any basic readings which describe the emic/etic distinction in more
> detail? Thanks in advance.
> Ted

I'll re-post some quotes from the _Encyclopedia of Cultural
Anthropology_ New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996. These passages
are from the article on "Emic/Etic Distinctions" by James W. Lett:

"As Pike defines it, the emic perspective focuses on the intrinsic
cultural distinctions that are meaningful to the members of a given
society (e.g., whether the natural world is distinguished from the
supernatural realm in the worldview of the culture) ... The native
members of a culture are the sole judges of the validity of an emic
description ... The etic perspective, again according to Pike, relies
upon the extrinsic concepts and categories that have meaning for
scientific observers (e.g., per capita energy consumption) ...
Scientists are the sole judges of the validity of an etic account ..."

"From Pike's point of view, the etic approach is useful for penetrating,
discovering, and elucidating emic systems, but etic claims to knowledge
have no necessary priority over competing emic claims. From Harris's
perspective, the etic approach is useful in making objective
determinations of fact, and etic claims to knowledge are necessarily
superior to competing emic claims."

"The terms *emic* and *etic* are current in a growing number of fields
... but they are generally used in ways that have little or nothing to
do with their original anthropological context."

"... the terms *emic* and *etic* should be seen as adjectives modifying
the implicit noun *knowledge*. Accordingly, the distinction between
emics and etics has everything to do with the nature of the knowledge
that is claimed and nothing to do with the source of the knowledge
(i.e., the manner by which it was obtained)."

"Emic constructs are accounts, descriptions, and analyses expressed in
terms of the conceptual schemes and categories that are regarded as
meaningful and appropriate by the members of the culture under study...
Etic constructs are accounts, descriptions,and analyses expressed in
terms of the conceptual schemes and categories that are regarded as
meaningful and appropriate by the community of scientific observers."

"Finally, most cultural anthropologists agree that the goal of
anthropological research must be the acquisition of both emic and etic
knowlege. Emic knowledge is essential for an intuitive and empathic
understanding of a culture, and it is essential for conducting effective
ethnographic fieldwork. Furthermore, emic knowledge is often valuable
source of inspiration for etic hypothese. Etic knowledge, on the other
hand, is essential for cross-cultural comparison, the sine qua non of
ethnology, because such comparison necessarily demands standard units
and categories."

Hope that helps more.