Scientists interested in the local construction of meaning, and local rules for behavior, will rely on emic accounts; scientists interested in facilitating comparative research and making universal claims will rely on etic accounts.
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. The possibility of a true culturally neutral etic perspective is debated, and was even discounted by Pike himself in his original work.
The terms were also championed by anthropologists Ward Goodenough and Marvin Harris with slightly different definitions (Goodenough was primarily interested in understanding the culturally specific meaning of specific beliefs and practices; Harris was primarily interested in explaining human behavior). In political theory an act viewed etically has been called an "operation," but when viewed emically, it has been called a "practice."
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