Comparativism

In an essay last term, students Làu Cẩm Tú and Hồ Phạm Ngọc Trân brought out the problems and possibilities inherent in Ruth Benedicts work style – though there is still a very strong prejudice in anthropology that you must go to a place to see for yourself. The argument against this is an elaboration of Benedict just as they have done in their essays – but there is some magic still to consider, or necromancy – if anyone is to do comparative work, it cannot really always entail that go for a look yourself prime directive style of fieldwork since how can someone spend a year in so many different places? Even if it were just to look at several places on a theme, these days maybe, most likely, you can’t travel to each and every one (I’ve tried), you need to trust the anthropologists from that place to tell you something. And then, the idea that only a western anthropologist can do comparative work seems to pop up unexamined, all anthropology is comparative, still, but the Western anthropologist usually does not have to say more than let’s go and they can still claim their have-a-look credentials, whereas someone from ‘elsewhere’ cannot so easily, say, write on some place in the West without someone saying they need to see their perspective is…, their interpretations is…, and why don’t they write about home and so on… A Western anthropologist goes to one or two places, then becomes a comparativist! Ka-pow! A miracle.