Thick Comparison

Reviving the Ethnographic Aspiration


We have come a long way from Evans-Pritchard’s famous dictum that “there is only one method in social anthropology, the comparative method - and that is impossible.” Yet a good 40 years later, qualitative social inquiry still has an uneasy relationship with comparison. This volume sets out “thick comparison” as a means to revive “comparing” as a productive process in ethnographic work: a process that helps to revitalise the articulation work inherent in analytical ethnographies; to vary observer perspectives and point towards “blind spots;” to name and create “new things” and modes of empirical work and to give way to intensified dialogues between data analysis and theorizing.

Contributors are Katrin Amelang, Stefan Beck, Kati Hannken-Illjes, Alexander Kozin, Henriette Langstrup, Jörg Niewöhner, Thomas Scheffer, Robert Schmidt, Estrid Sørensen, and Britt Ross Winthereik.

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Thomas Scheffer, PhD (1995) in Sociology, University of Bielefeld. Scheffer has directed the research group Comparative Micro-Sociology of Criminal Procedures at the Free University Berlin and has recently received a Heisenberg Scholarship to move to the Humboldt University Berlin.

Jörg Niewöhner, PhD (2001) in Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, works and teaches at the Department of European Ethnology, Humboldt University Berlin. His current comparative ethnographic research focuses on cardiovascular prevention practices in the everyday life of research, clinic and general practice.
Notes on Contributors

Introduction – Thickening Comparison: On the Multiple Facets of Comparability, Jörg Niewöhner & Thomas Scheffer

1. Comparability on Shifting Grounds: How Legal Ethnography differs from Comparative Law, Thomas Scheffer
2. Producing Multi-sited Comparability, Estrid Sørensen
3. Re-describing Social Practices: Comparison as Analytical and Explorative Tool, Robert Schmidt
4. Producing Alternative Objects of Comparison in Healthcare: Following a Web-based Technology for Asthma Treatment through the Lab and the Clinic, Henriette Langstrup & Brit Ross Winthereik
5. Contrasts and Comparisons: Three Practices of Forensic Investigations, Amade M’charek
6. Comparison in the Wild and more Disciplined Usages of an Epistemic Practice, Katrin Amelang & Stefan Beck
7. Making a Comparative Object, Kati Hannken-Illjes
8. On Positionality and its Comparability in the Legal Context, Alex Kozin

All those interested in social inquiry: social and cultural anthropology, sociology, ethnology, history and scholars with a general interest in working ethnographically and comparatively.
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