Re: Naive question

Jeanne Gwinn (
Thu, 19 Dec 1996 10:10:46 -0800

Shannon Adams wrote:
> Fcattus wrote: I
> > was not advocating only etic analysis; the problem is, a lot of folks
> > advocate doing only EMIC studies!

Shannon wrote:
> I think what you're getting at here is the paradox between IDEAL
> behavior and REAL behavior.

> 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
> significant.

I think what we're getting at here is not the real vs. ideal paradox or
even what falls into an emic or etic category. The problem is what
questions do you want answered? For someone who is Mormon or who is
studying the Mormons in particular then clearly "emic motivations are
the more significant." But for someone doing a cross-cultural analysis
of women's rites of passage, looking at it as a form of social control,
or an indicator of the woman's position in that society, etc. they will
view it from an etic perspective.
The emic and etic views are both invaluable to a full, that is
complete, understanding of human nature and the human animal. There are
people on both sides saying only do one or the other but really you
cannot truly understand without them both. Each alone gives you a
"limited understanding" and it seems a shame that any researcher would
confine their knowledge or the potential knowledge of others for the
sake of a petty 'school of thought' rivalry.
Your perspective on any culture will be determined by what you hope
to learn from them.