With ratings and rankings, competitions and talent shows, our daily lives are being shaped and increasingly dominated by the societal practice to compare. Many modern sciences only evolved and became professions by applying an explicit method of comparisons through which they always claimed a particular increase in objectivity. Comparisons are ubiquitous; the operations associated with them seem to be anthropological givens. Nonetheless, despite frequent speculations that comparing increased during certain epochs and in modern societies up to now, hardly anything is known about the societal and cultural causes, about the functions and effects of comparing. The SFB “Practices of Comparing” is therefore exploring a new research paradigm by shifting attention from what is a seemingly invariant operation the comparison – to the history and culture of a practice – doing comparisons. What do people do when they compare?
In line with the practice turn in contemporary theory, the interdisciplinary research team – drawn from the fields of history, literary studies, philosophy, historical image studies, political science, and law – is studying how the historically varying practices of comparing merge to form routines, rules, habitus, institutions, and discourses. Through this process, to compare not only create structures but also trigger mid-range dynamics or even comprehensive change. We propose that the practices of comparing are not just subject to historical change but simultaneously contribute to historical change in previously underrated ways.
By spending the next twelve years studying such a fundamental practice for forming the order and dynamics of modern, and purportedly not modern, European and non-European societies, the SFB aims to promote a new way of thinking about history, societies, and historical change within the context of contemporary historical and cultural theories.