Whether as comparisons of nations and states, Nobel Prize awards, race-based analogies and, more recently, the many corona-related comparisons – the practices of comparing are all-pervasive. They form the backbone of arguments and actions of a broad range of actors in business, culture, science and politics. Practices of comparing both order and change the world, construct and question societal hierarchies and power relations both past and present.
The Collaborative Research Centre 1288 (‘Sonderforschungsbereich’) investigates the history of practices of comparing from antiquity through to the present and transfers both the everyday and institutionalised forms of comparing as well as the scientific methods thereof into a new research agenda. Practices of comparing are not objective scholarly methodmost of all the criteria for comparison are not given but chosen: As a multifaceted practice, comparisons are the focus of our interest, namely, its social and cultural causes, its methods as well as its impact.
We study the ways in which actors generate long-term knowledge by means of comparing, how they create and form their comparata and tertia, and, ultimately, the ways in which, beyond concrete contexts, consolidations or changes are thus initiated:
How were practices of comparing established over extended periods of time? What changes did they undergo and how did they become perpetuated established? What delimitations went hand in hand with such practices and, by extension, what standardising and, in some cases, globalising effects were engendered by them?
Our thesis proposes that the transformation of practices of comparing facilitates the investigation of global historical processes of change and the establishment of new periodisation. SFB 1288 thus contributes significantly to the long-term research goal of developing a contingency-sensitive theory of historical change and to the description of the genealogy of Western modernity.
Over the forthcoming four-year period, we shall be focusing on the analysis of patterns of comparing at the meso level: our enquiries concentrate on the ways in which practices of comparing are reinforced and institutionalised in the formation of practice (discourses, organisations, media dispositives) and through communities of practice, and whether and how these provoke, promote or constrain historical change. We bundle our research into three closely and diversely interrelated project areas.