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Cognitive Anthropology II: Decision Modeling, Taxonomies, and Componential Analysis

This chapter is about three more methods that come from cognitive anthropology: decision modeling, taxonomic analysis, and componential analysis. These methods all have two things in common: They are entirely qualitative and they are based on systematic logic. You’ll see the same properties in some of the methods for analyzing text, like analytic induction and grounded theory. All together, these methods make clear that qualitative doesn’t mean wimpy.

ETHNOGRAPHIC DECISION MODELS

Ethnographic decision models (EDMs) predict the choices that people make under specific circumstances. Any recurring decision—to buy or not to buy a car, to use or not use a condom during sex, to take a sick child to the doctor—can be modeled with this method. The method was developed by Christina Gladwin (1989) and is based on asking questions, sorting out some logical rules about how the questions have to be ordered, and laying out the order in a picture (like a tree diagram) or in writing.

As with all cognitive research methods, we don’t know if EDMs just predict behavior or if they also reflect the way people think about things. The jury is still out on that one. But EDMs get the prediction right 80%-90% of the time and that’s as good as it gets in the social sciences.

 
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