Re: Naive question

Shannon Adams (
Tue, 17 Dec 1996 08:20:44 -0800

Fcattus wrote:
> to Shannon: Ask "What does this mean TO YOU?" and I'll agree with you! I
> was not advocating only etic analysis; the problem is, a lot of folks
> advocate doing only EMIC studies! And mental rules can be sincerely
> believed in and demonstrably not an explanation of what an informant is
> doing, I'll repeat--and informants may even agree.

I think what you're getting at here is the paradox between IDEAL
behavior and REAL behavior. Every culture knows the difference between
what one SHOULD do and what one is actually doing. But I honestly
believe that if you want the *most valid* ideological interpretation of
behavior (focus one the WHY not the WHAT), you'll get that from the
experts--your informants. There are usually (I'd say always)
accompanying social science type reasons but I believe those motivations
are secondary (and only useful for cross-cultural comparisson).

I'm not suggesting
> debating informants--just looking at the bigger picture and trying to
> discern cultural patterns, causes, etc. as well as descriptions of what
> informants think is happening (which is of course very important).

But isn't what the *informants think is happening* what really is
happening (for them at least). Let me illustrate this with my recent
fieldwork. I wrote a paper on the act of giving birth among Latter-day
Saint (Mormon) women. In my etic analysis I explained the high
significance placed on this event by describing it as a rite of
passage. But my emic analysis is the reason it is a rite of passage
(the identification with Eve, with their female deity--"Heavenly
Mother", with women in their communities and families; taking a "step
closer" to their ultimate religious/spiritual goal--godhood;
experiencing and enduring pain; "fullfilling the measure of their
creation"; etc.) Yes giving birth to a Latter-day Saint woman is
definately a rite of passage BUT these emic motivations are the more

> --John