Custom Search

ARC4ICA Essay: The Agent and the Observer: Emics and Etics in Archaeology

by Caroline Seawright
Honours Essay for Issues in Contemporary Archaeology at LaTrobe University, July 2015.


Human behaviour can be examined from both 'internal' and 'external' perspectives. Philosopher Warner Fite (1908, p. 489) noted that "there is no contrast more striking than that furnished by viewing a situation from within as agent, and viewing it from without as observer". Furthermore, Hans-Georg Gadamer (1960 (2013), pp. 186-187) contended that the process of understanding is a continuous one involving both the observer and the agent. Linguist Kenneth Pike (1954, p. 8) coined the terms 'etic', generalised observer classifications about linguistic data, and 'emic', specific agent-related patterns discovered within data. From the 1950s, historians and archaeologists have been interested in this difference. The philosopher-historian Robin Collingwood (1946 (2005), pp. 234-236) noted that the historian has the authority to select and criticise the historical data with which to construct history. Historians must thus recognise that they create "an imaginary picture" (Collingwood 1946 (2005), pp. 248-249) which must be examined and interpreted critically to reconstruct the past. History is thus written by the observer based on the actions of the agent. Since then, other specialists, including psychologists, sociologists, folklorists, epidemiologists, and archaeologists, use this classification as a heuristic tool to understand human behaviour (Franklin 2009, p. 1; Headland 1990, p. 15).

Emics and Etics in Archaeology

Seawright, C , The Agent and the Observer: Emics and Etics in Archaeology, Articles by Caroline Seawright, < kunoichi/themestream/ ARC4ICA-2.html>.

© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2015 - present

If you enjoyed this page, please join my Egyptology & Archaeology Essays Mailing List.

Or contact me on Twitter:

comments powered by Disqus