Emic and etic

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Emic and etic are terms used by anthropologists, and by others in the social and behavioral sciences to refer to two different kinds of data concerning human behavior. In particular, they are used in cultural anthropology, to refer to kinds of fieldwork done and viewpoints obtained.[1]

  • An "emic" account is a description of behavior or a belief in terms meaningful (consciously or unconsciously) to the actor; that is, an emic account comes from within the culture. Almost anything from within a culture can provide an emic account. For example, if I am an editor at Wikipedia and I write about Wikipedia, that's an emic account. Whether I know what I'm talking about is another issue (an issue of expertise or reliability of the account). Anthropologists typically look at all manner of insider perspectives as emic. Novels, films and journalistic accounts by members of the culture under study are typical emic accounts.
  • An "etic" account is a description of a behavior or belief by an observer, in terms that can be applied to other cultures; that is, an etic account is '"culturally neutral". The etic account is from a self-consciously outsider perspective, and it attempts to be neutral or objective. Often, etic accounts are empirical in nature and supported by data from one of the five senses.

The terms were first introduced by linguist Kenneth Pike, who argued that the tools developed for describing linguistic behaviors could be adapted to the description of any human social behavior. Emic and etic are derived from the linguistic terms phonemic and phonetic respectively, which are in turn derived from Greek roots. The possibility of a truly objective etic perspective is debated, and was discounted by Pike himself in his original work, and in this way, the emic/etic dichtomy in anthropology leads into philosophic issues about the very nature of objectivity. Some controversy has existed over whether Pike properly took the terms from linguistics and applied them to anything similar in anthropology, but the terms stuck as ways of referring to insider/outsider dialogues.[2]

The terms were also championed by anthropologists Ward Goodenough and Marvin Harris with slightly different connotations than those used by Pike. (Goodenough was primarily interested in understanding the culturally specific meaning of emic beliefs and practices; Harris was primarily interested in explaining human behavior, or providing an etic account. In political theory an act viewed etically has been called an "operation," but when viewed emically, it has been called a "practice." There are a host of these kinds of technical distinctions arising out of the emic/etic distinction.[3]


[edit] An example: Etic and emic approaches to consumer behavior

Emic approach refers to being culturally relevant and specific with the product advertising. This is a difficult task because generally products cross continents because there is demand based on their current positioning. Changing the product positioning when advertising internationally might make the product lose the reason it gained demand in the foreign market in the first place. Balance between the historical image of the product and its new market is vital. McDonald’s is a great example of emic product positioning. McDonalds Corporation has introduced market-specific products internationally, like serving lamb BigMac in India, beer in Germany, avocado sauce in Chile, etc. The advertising implemented continues to use Ronald McDonald, only he now enjoys different foods and plays different sports (curling, cricket, soccer).

Etic approach refers to keeping the advertising culturally neutral in all parts of the world. This is again a very daunting task. The etic approach requires that the marketing strategy be so basic that it does not matter in which part of the world it is implemented. Keeping a marketing strategy basic but still appealing is difficult, but when it is done well it can save the company millions in costs, giving it a competitive edge and, of course, larger profits. There have been some famous mishaps when it comes to the etic approach, the most notable one being Euro Disney, which tried to imitate its American counterparts and failed. Success has come to coffee giant Starbucks, which has successfully implemented the same store structure of comfortable couches, soft lighting, and strong coffee in various parts of the world. They continue to advertise globally based on their coffee expertise and atmosphere.

[edit] Current use of the terms in anthropology

These terms are still in use and mentioned in most introductory textbooks. The legacy of 19th century stage theorists is to view cultures as distinct, so that emic/etic viewpoints make sense. Levi-Strauss noted in the 1960's that there is a strong tendency among humans in general to divide phenomena into two parts, which he referred to as binary opposition. Later anthropologists frequently confirmed his finding, adding, as did Maybury-Lewis that there is also a widespread tendency to treat "our own people" differently than "those people who are strangers." In the 1980's and 1990's, anthropologists like Renato Rosaldo made explicit the notion that complete objectivity about someone else's subjectivity is never possible.[4] In 1991, anthropologist Donald Brown establishes that differences in viewpoints are part of a basic "cultural syntax" that is universal.[5]

The origin of the terms in linguistics, therefore, has come full circle with talk of a "syntax" of human culture, not dissimilar to Chomskyian views on syntax.[6]

[edit] References

  1. ^ http://www.sil.org/~headlandt/ee-intro.htm
  2. ^ http://www.sil.org/~headlandt/ee-intro.htm
  3. ^ Levi-Strauss, ibid.
  4. ^ Culture and Truth, op cit.
  5. ^ Brown, Donald. Human Universals. McGraw-Hill. 1991
  6. ^ Chomsky, Noam. Syntactical Structures. 1954

[edit] Further reading

Emics and Etics: The Insider/Outsider Debate, edited by Thomas Headland, Kenneth Pike, and Marvin Harris (published in 1990 by Sage Publications).

  • Cresswell, J. W. (1998) Qualitative Enquiry and Research Design: Choosing among five traditions. London. Sage
  • Goodenough, Ward (1970) “Describing a Culture” in Description and Comparison in Cultural Anthropology Cambridge: Cambridge University Press pp 104-119. ISBN 978-0-202-30861-6
  • Harris, Marvin (1980) “Chapter Two: The Epistemology of Cultural Materialism,” in Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture. New York: Random House. pp. 29-45 ISBN 978-0-7591-0134-0
  • Nattiez, Jean-Jacques (1987). Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music (Musicologie générale et sémiologue, 1987). Translated by Carolyn Abbate (1990). ISBN 978-0-691-02714-2.
  • Pike, Kenneth Lee (1967). Language in relation to a unified theory of structure of human behavior 2nd ed. The Hague: Mouton
  • Shinobu Kitayama, Dov Cohen(2007). Handbook of cultural psychology. New York: The Guilford Press.
  • Solomon, Consumer Behavior (Buying, having, and being) 7th edition. ISBN 0-13-218694-2

[edit] External links

Emics and Etics: The Insider/Outsider Debate, edited by Thomas Headland, Kenneth Pike, and Marvin Harris (published in 1990 by Sage Publications)

Personal tools