Emic and etic have become terms in anthropology, for an ‘‘insider’’ versus an ‘‘outsider’’ view of a particular social world. For example, an outsider view of an economic exchange might hold that a seller’s goal is to maximize profit. An insider view from people actually involved in the exchange might show that profit was not the concern.
The distinction between emic and etic, insider and outsider, originated in the linguistics of the 1950s, most famously in the work of Kenneth Pike (1967). In the 1960s, anthropology borrowed and shortened the linguist’s distinction between phonetic and phonemic and began talking about etic’’ and ‘‘emic.’’
Due to the debates between ‘‘materialist’’ or etic and ‘‘symbolic’’ or emic approaches to anthropology, ‘‘etic’’ and ‘‘emic’’ turned into labels for com- peting kinds of ethnographic descriptions.
The shift to etic/emic as a partition of the ethnographic space rather than a dialectic process by which it was explored introduced distortion into the use of the terms that continues to this day.