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 Spring 2016

 “Comparison” as a Mode of Inquiry in the Post-Comparative World

Comparison as a mode of scholarly inquiry has long been under question, be it as “cultural comparison” in the field of anthropology or the explicit nationalist frameworks of “comparative literature” and “comparative history.” Thus the turn to the transnational, the global or world, and even the local seems to imply that scholarship has entered a “post-comparative” phase. In the spring semester of 2016, we return to comparison as a mode of inquiry, a method, or an analytic. We seek to interrogate the utility of a comparative logic uncoupled from the previous paradigms. But we also intend to investigate the ways in which the logic of comparison or its suppositions—implicit or explicit—might still guide analysis in a “post-comparative” moment. 

Are comparisons a constitutive element of social order and of historical change? Have they always been so?  Since at least the sixteenth century, worldwide comparisons have been interpreted as a form of imagined relations that produce the "world as a whole" by comparing heterogenic, seemingly non-commensurable, and formerly separate cultures and regions. But has a sense of “the global” been shaped by comparative descriptions? Is “comparison” necessarily linked to an insufficiently defined notion of a larger “whole” that predetermines the comparative framework and the results of such an analysis? Should we think of the world as a bundle of constitutive parts or discrete zones of comparison?

We will explore comparison as a mode of observing, defining, and creating parts and wholes through different patterns, media, and standards. We are interested in the use of comparison in specific disciplinary fields and in regard to specific topics (world literature of travel and exploration, comparisons of cultures or cultural forms, metaphors of trans- or cross-, comparisons of national forms of capitalism, global wars, narratives of progress, crimes against humanity) but also at the meta-level of imagining how “comparison” undergirds questions of heterogeneity and particularity, convergence and disjuncture, difference and hierarchy, self and other, commensurability, as well as temporality