'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

All lectures begin at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted, and are held in the Daniel Family Commons, which is located in the Usdan University Center.


Anthropocene: A New History 

Catherine Malabou • Kingston University London GO


Canada, the Revolution, and Creating the United States 

Jeffers Lennox • Wesleyan University  GO


We are not here to bring the love we bear to women … into comparison, nor rank it with [other forms of love]. Opportunities and limits of comparisons in premodern and modern times.

Franz-Josef Arlinghaus • Bielefeld University  GO


Comparing Pictures. Comparative Practices and their Implications

Johannes Grave • Bielefeld University GO


An Object of Comparison: The Orientalist Photographer

Ali Behdad • UCLA  GO


Lying Comparatively: Ordered Times and Ruptured Worlds 

Jesse Torgerson • Wesleyan University GO



Lauren Berlant • University of Chicago GO


Big Comparison: China, India, and some Conundrums of the Comparative Method

Sheldon Pollock • Columbia University GO


Beyond IslamChristianity, and Hinduism: The Quest for Compatible Categories of Comparison in the Academic Study of Religion 

Peter Gottschalk • Wesleyan University GO


Being Ready for What You Don’t Know: Beatriz Santiago Muñoz’ Wandering, Brown Cinema 

Rachel Ellis Neyra • Wesleyan University GO


Beyond Comparative Philosophy

Stephen Angle • Wesleyan University GO