“A Curious Mixture of Passion and Reserve”: Understanding the Etic/Emic Distinction

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etic, emic, ethnography, ethnology, knowledge work, parent-child interactions, work-play dichotomy


The terms “etic” and “emic” are often mentioned in passing, with little or no attention to their original use or meanings, and there has been substantial slippage between what Kenneth Pike originally intended and how these terms are now used. Our goal here is to demonstrate the value of these terms to current research; to do this, we will explain the abstract terms emic and etic; then link them to a second, more concrete, pair of concepts, ethnography and ethnology; finally, we will use a case study to demonstrate how to apply the terms to actual communication behavior. The case study illustrates how these dual perspectives provide a procedural framework for the study of children’s everyday lives, and in particular, for the study of children’s contributions to household work. Understanding Pike’s goals in developing the concepts of etic and emic brings us to a more sophisticated and complex understanding of them; we lose the easy dichotomy, but gain a strong analytic tool.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Éducation et Didactique, v. 5, issue 3, p. 145-154