Emics, Etics, and Social Objectivity
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Emic analysis, whether seen as opposed or as complementary to etic modes, is regarded as essential for ensuring that culture-specific particularities are not suppressed in efforts to subsume social phenomena under cross-culturally valid generalizations. Particularly, there is concern that the aim of providing an account of the concepts and principles subjects use to organize reality will be frustrated if alien etic notions function in ethnographic systematization where emic ones should. This paper examines this and other aspects of the emics/etics problem, with particular emphasis on the ostensible function of emic analysis to avoid interpreter imposition of etic categories. It is argued that ethnographic objectivity must acknowledge some degree of imposition but that this does not render emic analysis pointless. Particular emphasis is given to W. V. Quine's idea of the indeterminacy of translation, which seems antithetical to emics but which, with some reconstruction, provides a basis for a viable emic mode.