CRC 1288: Practices of comparisons.
Ordering and changing the world

With ratings and rankings, competitions and casting shows, our daily lives are being shaped and increasingly dominated by the societal practice of comparisons. 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, up to now, hardly anything is known about the societal and cultural causes, about the functions and effects of comparisons, despite frequent speculations that comparisons increased during certain epochs and in modern societies.

The CRC “Practices of Comparisons” 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, and historical image studies, political science, and law – is studying how the historically varying practices of comparisons merge to form routines, rules, habitus, institutions, and discourses. Through this process, they not only create structures but also trigger mid-range dynamics or even comprehensive change. We propose that the practices of comparisons are not just subject to historical change but simultaneously contribute to historical change in previously underrated ways.

The long-term goal of the research project is to gain a precise description of the practices of comparisons, the ways in which comparisons are prevented or banned, and the power of comparisons to create order and bring about change. Taking a historical and systematic approach from a transdisciplinary perspective, the CRC “Practices of Comparisons” will seek to determine the importance of comparing within a contingency-sensitive theory of historical change. During the first funding phase, we shall address the overriding question on historical change by concentrating on those practices of comparisons that emerged through recourse to traditions from antiquity in a globally entangled Europe and in the Americas. Our premise is that these made a fundamental contribution to shaping the epoch from the sixteenth to the twentieth century as the ‘western’ model of the modern age.

By spending the next twelve years studying such a fundamental practice for forming the order and dynamics of modern and purportedly not modern, of European and non-European societies, the CRC aims to promote a new way of thinking about history, societies, and historical change within the context of contemporary historical and cultural theories.

Universität Bielefeld CRC 1288 Universität Bielefeld CRC 1288