Freie Universität Berlin

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GHDL with Philippe Descola (Collège de France)

Comparatism as an Exercise in Symmetrisation

Anthropological comparison is not based upon inductive generalisations stemming out of ethnographic particulars; it is anchored in deductive generalisation, that is, in the detection within a number of ethnographic cases of features that can be arranged according to meaningful patterns. Comparing in that sense can only be legitimate if it strives for symmetry, if it endeavours to render comparable on an equal footing the cultural features of the observer and those of the observed. There are different ways to accomplish this, each with deep philosophical implications.

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