Accepted Paper:

Specters of comparativism: contemporary conjurations of a "minor" anthropological genre  

Author:

Stuart McLean (University of Minnesota)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores some contemporary possibilities for re-inventing comparativism as a method and an anthropological genre and how it might be articulated with more recent discussions of hybrid texts, montage and multi-cited ethnography as a basis for representing, reflecting on and intervening in transnational cultural flows and intersections.

Paper long abstract:

Since the late nineteenth century, anthropology has identified itself increasingly both with ethnography as a research method and with the ethnographic monograph as the most widely practiced form of anthropological writing. This disciplinary endorsement of ethnographically grounded particularism has often been portrayed as a repudiation of the universalizing claims associated with an earlier tradition of comparative anthropological scholarship, represented by such nineteenth century figures as Morgan and Tylor. Although comparativism (usually on a more restricted scale) continues to be represented in anthropology, its recent status has been that of a minority pursuit, engaged in predominantly by senior scholars with an already established record of ethnographic research and publication. In this paper, I explore some contemporary possibilities for re-inventing comparativism as a method and an anthropological genre. I argue that burgeoning global interconnection renders such a task both timely and necessary. In making this claim, I emphasize the productive and combinatorial possibilities of comparative scholarship rather than its habit of recourse to preconceived and totalising explanatory schemes. I consider some the ways in which comparativism as an older (pre- ethnographic) mode of anthropological writing might be articulated with more recent discussions of hybrid texts, montage and multi-cited ethnography as a basis for representing, reflecting on and intervening creatively and critically in transnational cultural flows and intersections. Finally, I suggest that creative re-engagement with anthropology's comparative legacies might serve as a basis for imagining new modes of anthropological writing attuned to a world characterized by often surprising and unforeseen linkages and juxtapositions.

Panel W113
Creolizing anthropology: connectivity, diversity, and reflexivity in a globalizing world