Special Issue of Cultural Analysis
Modern Crachoir Design: A crachoir is used in wine tastings to spit out the wine, thus being able to compare a range of different wines while staying relatively sober. © Julia Jacot / EESAB Rennes
Eine Special Issue von Cultural Analysis (18/1), die ich zum Thema “Comparison as Social and Cultural Practice”1 herausgegeben habe, ist soeben erschienen. Alle Beiträge, die auf ein Panel bei der SIEF-Tagung 2019 in Santiago de Compostela zurückgehen, sind frei als PDF verfügbar. Dorothy Noyes hat eine Response auf die Beiträge der Ausgabe beigetragen.
Comparisons are everyday practices used for making sense of social roles and encounters, socioeconomic transformation processes, and uncertain futures. By comparing oneself with others, practices, statuses, and worldviews are put into context and embedded in broader frames of meaning. In times of change and risk, comparisons reduce complexity and offer a clearer orientation. For a long time, the humanities and social sciences have used comparisons as methodological and analytical tools (Eggan 1954; Gingrich and Fox 2002; Schnegg 2014). Such scholarly practices of comparing have since been criticized for furthering inequalities, reproducing problematic categories, or presupposing bounded entities of comparison (i.e., “holistic cultures,” which can be compared with each other, evolutionism being a prime example). Newer approaches seek to address such problems and propose ethnographic “thick comparisons” (Scheffer and Niewöhner 2010) or a focus on “practices of comparison” (Deville, Guggenheim, and Hrdličková 2016a). Such scholarly forms of comparison as methodological or analytic practice—that is, how scientists or scholars (Deville, Guggenheim, and Hrdličková 2016b) go about comparing (from a science studies perspective)—exist besides “emic” forms of comparison (Sørensen, Marlin, and Niewöhner 2018) or “comparisons in the wild” (Amelang and Beck 2010), that is, comparison as everyday practice enacted not (only) by scientists but by virtually everybody in specific life-worlds. The articles in this special issue deal with such emic comparisons in everyday contexts. Focusing on comparison not as an analytic tool but as an everyday social and cultural practice, they shed light on subjective perspectives and on what individuals (and groups) do when they compare and how they do it—from subtle to crude forms of comparison, from informal and spontaneous comparisons to institutionalized comparative regimes, from tacit modes of comparing to refined categories and systems of comparison.
Comparison is a way to make sense of reality, e.g., by contrasting places, “cultures,” or practices. It may present different degrees of something, create a dichotomy, and imply a hierarchy of values. The article analyzes how comparison as a tool is used by highly skilled Swedish professionals when they talk about participating in international work mobility and their subsequent return to Sweden. Empirically, the analysis is based on 46 interviews with Swedish medical professionals and 30 interviews with scholars in Swedish Humanities.
Drawing on interviews with Estonian families who move between Estonia and Finland, the article elaborates on how interviewees use comparison to build their identity and belonging and to justify their choices. When negotiating membership in Finland, the strategy of invisibility is available since there are no visible differences that would cause them to be categorised as different. However, Estonian families also use contrast as a form of counter-speech against discrimination and as a strategy to highlight the difference between themselves and different others, portraying themselves as hard-working, deserving immigrants.
Climate change has become one of the most pressing issues of our time. It is firmly anchored in the Anthropocene, and it can be defined as an environmental, cultural, and political phenomenon that is reshaping the global world. This paper analyses how comparisons are used in the climate change debate as a way to negotiate norms and values, to regulate responsibilities, and clarify questions of certain forms of contested agency as a narrative attribution of guilt and blame; especially with regard to the moral discourse on options for action, as well as to draw up possible courses of action for a climate-friendly future. An ethnographic example of an exaggerated depiction of generational conflict is used to show the extent to which opposites but also similarities are created through the process of comparison. In addition to the extent to which plausibility and credibility and guilt, blame and justice are negotiated, it is emphasized that the dichotomous use of generational comparison refers less to a binary understanding of generational justice and capacity to act, but must rather be evaluated as a narrative code in the communication and meeting process.
The article discusses comparisons in recreational road cycling and asks how hobby athletes compare themselves and their performances with others. Based on a research project on orientations toward the middle, it focuses on constellations in which belonging to the midfield in sport is interpreted as a positive achievement and goal. The article shows how criteria of comparison are dynamic and negotiated in relation to other athletes and to a range of different motives. It shows how comparisons entail reflective, anticipatory, and affective elements and how available data and subjective estimations about others’ performance influence comparative constellations.
Groth, Stefan, Hrsg. 2020. „Cultural Analysis“. Special Issue: Comparison as Social and Cultural Practice. https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/ culturalanalysis/volume18_1/vol18_1_toc.html. Peer Reviewed. (Details →) ↩︎
Groth, Stefan. 2020. „Introduction: Comparison as Social and Cultural Practice“. Herausgegeben von Stefan Groth. Cultural Analysis 18 (1). Special Issue: Comparison as Social and Cultural Practice: 1–4. https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/ culturalanalysis/volume18_1/vol18_1_Introduction.html. (Details →) ↩︎
Groth, Stefan. 2020. „Comparison as Reflective and Affective Practice: Orientations Towards the Middle in Recreational Road Cycling“. Herausgegeben von Stefan Groth. Cultural Analysis 18 (1). Special Issue: Comparison as Social and Cultural Practice: 63–75. https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/ culturalanalysis/volume18_1/vol18_1_Groth.html. Peer Reviewed. (Details →) ↩︎