Till Mostowlansky and Andrea Rota
The emic/etic distinction originated in linguistics in the 1950s to designate two complementary standpoints for the analysis of human language and behaviour. It has been subject to debates in the humanities and social sciences ever since. Imported into anthropology in the 1960s, etic came to stand for ambitions to establish an objective, scientific approach to the study of culture, whereas emic refers to the goal of grasping the world according to one’s interlocutors’ particular points of view. While the distinction lost traction as an analytical instrument in anthropology in the 1990s, emic and etic have become concepts used by various other disciplines and subfields in the humanities and social sciences. In these contexts, they continue to be used to address a range of different epistemological and methodological issues, such as the relationship between researcher and research subject or the question of how to legitimately interpret social practices. For this reason, the emic/etic distinction remains relevant. It draws attention to fundamental differences in the way scholars and students of various disciplines approach and discuss research, data, and comparison.