FLAME Free-List Analysis under Microsoft Excel


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Free-listing is a data collection task which was elaborated in the field of cognitive psychology in order to better understand the processes of semantic categorization. Cognitive anthropologists rapidly made use of the method and its use has become widespread in the area of ethnobiology. It is an elicitation technique by which informants are asked to cite – in written or oral form – all the items belonging to a specific super-ordinate semantic category (or cultural domain). A typical question engaging such an elicitation would be: “Cite, as they come to mind, all the insects that you know of.”

The aim of the technique is twofold. First, it allows researchers to establish a list of items belong to a domain and to define its semantic boundaries. Second, the frequency with which items are cited across lists as well as their order of mention within lists give important information concerning the domain’s structure. In fact, the most frequently cited items appearing early in the lists are considered to be culturally/cognitively more salient than others; in a nutshell, they are considered more typical – better prototypes – of the domain under investigation.

The technique’s main assets are the ease and rapidity with which it can be carried out and that it is conveniently replicable in different cultural contexts. Moreover, determining the boundaries and contents of a semantic category is a fundamental aspect of ethnographic research. Free-listing is a swift and efficient technique to uncover, in a systematic fashion, the basic structure of any cultural domain to which researchers are generally unfamiliar at the onset of their survey.

FLAME’s endeavor is to make free-list analysis as easy and accessible as possible both within anthropology and across disciplines.

More on Free-Listing:

  • Bernard, H. Russell. 1994. Research methods in anthropology: qualitative and quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Borgatti, Stephen P. 1999. "Elicitation techniques for cultural domain analysis" in The Ethnographer’s Toolkit, Vol. 3, edited by J. Schensul and M. LeCompte. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, pp. 1-26.
  • D’Andrade, Roy G. 1995. The development of cognitive anthropology. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Weller, Susan C. and A. Kimball Romney. 1988. Systematic data collection. Newbury Park, CA : Sage Publications.

Mis à jour le 21 January 2013