Emic and etic

Just trying to get my head around the terms emic and etic. Obviously Wikipedia is useful as ever  althought James Lett’s article offers a bit more depth.

In essence “emic” and “etic” describe different kinds of data that social researchers collect.

Emic describes the behaviour, beliefs and attitude of people from within a particular culture.

Etic describes the behaviour, beliefs and attitudes of observers from outside of a culture particularly in relations to the observation of other cultures.

The question is then how does one value the etic perspective in relation to the emic. Does the etic (if done well) offer an objective/scientific analysis of the emic? Alternatively is the etic just another equally subjective perspective which has no more intrinsic value than the emic? How you answer that depends on how you see the world and how much faith you place in the world view of objective, professional or scientific observers.

However, even if you don’t believe that the etic perspective represents “truth” or “science” it is still possible to see the concept as having some usefulness. If the etic represents the struggle to understand and to analyse, to identify patterns and to ask why it clearly offers something that the immersive knowing of the emic perspective does not. To understand social and cultural activity we probably to both inhabit the emic and construct the etic.

Does that sound about right?


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