The emic and ethical perspectives applied to scientific knowledge have allowed us to acquire different perspectives on social phenomena. Its antecedents can be found in structuralist linguistics, although they have shifted significantly to sociology and anthropology, as they allow the elaboration of different answers and explanations of social behavior.
Introduction, we will see below what is and where do ethical and emic perspectives come from, As well as some of its main differences.
From linguistics to social behavior
The concepts of “ethics” and “emic” are neologisms first introduced by the American linguist Kenneth Pike, to refer to the way in which social behavior occurs and is understood. Ethics corresponds to the suffix of the word “phonetic” (meaning phonetic, in English), and “emic” corresponds to the word “phonemic” (meaning phonemic, also in English).
Phonetics is a branch of linguistics which studies the sounds we make to communicate. As a concept, it refers to the sounds of language based on an active taxonomy of speech, as well as their environmental effects understood as acoustic waves.
Phonetics, on the other hand, is another branch of linguistics and refers to the ability of listeners not only to listen, but also to identify and manipulate phonemes (the minimum phonological units, which belong to each language). It refers to sounds that are in implicit consciousness, or in non-consciousness, and which help speakers identify different expressions of their own language.
Pike uses these terms to develop two epistemological perspectives that would allow us to understand social behavior as an analogy of the main linguistic structures. In other words, he seeks to apply the principles by which linguists discovered phonemes, morphemes, and other units of language, to discover emic units of social behavior.
6 differences between emic and ethical perspectives
The ethical and emic perspectives of the social sciences have been useful in offering different explanations of what motivates social behavior. In other words, they arose in the face of the intention to respond, for example, to why certain human groups behave in a specific way, to why they interact as they do, or to the way they organized themselves in a certain way.
Generally speaking, the answers to these questions have taken two paths. On the one hand, there are those who say that the reasons for social behavior can only be understood by the explanation given by the actors themselves on these reasons. It would be an emic position.
And on the other hand, there are those who say that social behaviors, and their motivations, can be explained by direct observation of an outside person. It would be an ethical position. According to Pike, using an ethical and emic perspective can have important consequences and ethical context, especially when descriptions translate into instrumental measurements.
Below, we’ll briefly take a look at five differences related to the way we research and understand our societies and behaviors.
1. Observer-participant relationship
An emic perspective seeks to exist a context of interaction in which the observer and the informant meet and lead a discussion on a particular topic.
For its part, an ethical perspective defines and describes social behavior by considering above all the logic of the observer actor. Priority is given to the structure that goes beyond the minds of the actors.
2. The reason for social behavior
When faced with the question of what events, entities, or relationships look like, an emic perspective would say that the answer is in the minds of the people who perform in these events, Entities or relationships.
On the other hand, when faced with the same question, an ethical perspective would say that the answer lies in the observable behavior of people who play a role in those events, entities, or relationships.
3. Validity of explanatory knowledge
Emic is a perspective that works from an actor perspective. The events of daily life, customs, habits, rituals, etc., not defined by those who perform them, and this is considered the valid definition.
How is it understood in relation to non-conscious meanings or structures, emic is considered a difficult prospect to defend in terms of scientific rigor.
Ethics is a perspective that is approached from the point of view of the observer. Here, cultural events, customs, habits, daily life, etc., are explained based on the description made by the viewer (not the one acting on those events), and this is the explanation which is considered valid.
4. Similar perspectives
An emic perspective is closer to a subjectivist perspective of knowledge, while an ethical perspective it is closer to the objectivist paradigm of knowledge.
5. Associated methodologies
The emic perspective is concerned with the social construction of meaning, questioning and exploring the emic goals of behavior. Therefore, the descriptions made from interviews with social actors constitute an example of methodology.
For its part, the ethical perspective, which is more interested in descriptions of the external agent, can effect, for example, comparative research between what is observed in different cultures.
6. They’re not always that different
Emic and ethical perspectives are approaches that may not correspond, and what is more: they are often understood and used as completely exclusive descriptions.
Kenneth Pike and Marvin Harris (an American anthropologist who picked up and developed Pike’s theories) problematized this and succeeded in illustrating when ethical and emic viewpoints coincide, and when they distance themselves from one another. other, as well as the consequences. of these coincidences and distances.
One of the things people interested in emic and ethical perspectives have had to ask themselves is how mental systems of beliefs, language and behavior are connected. In other words, it has also been necessary to ask whether what we say about what we do gives a real idea of the reasons for our conduct; or if what we see ourselves doing is in fact giving a closer idea of the motives for the same behavior.
Sometimes what we do coincides with what we say about what we do, other times it doesn’t. And this is largely why the emic and ethical perspectives cannot be energetically separated, but must be understood in relation. This is approaches that can be useful and complementary to understanding our social behavior.
- Harris, M. (1976). History and significance of the emic / ethics distinction. Annual review of anthropology. 5: 329-350.