Comparative Thinking

Course Description: 

‘Thinking without comparison is unthinkable.’ Yet the comparative method has become something distinctive, and comparative history, politics, government, literature as well as comparative-historical sociology have been institutionalized as separate fields. The course explores these explicit comparative strategies in the social sciences and the humanities. It, however, goes beyond that and handles comparison as a cultural system. The course scrutinizes the cultural embeddedness of the logic and categories of comparison, the location of ‘universal’ social theory as well as issues pertaining to hegemony, ideology and knowledge. Globalization has produced an awareness of intertwined histories and social conditions, and a new configuration of similarity and difference that challenge social research and comparative thinking. This will receive special attention in class.

 Readings are of two types: (1) texts on comparative strategies and (2) examples of comparative research. The purpose of the class is to enhance your critical skills and help you develop a constructive, theoretically and practically viable approach to your dissertation research.


Learning Outcomes: 

  1. The class is designed to help you obtain fluency in reading and understanding debates on comparisons;
  2. acquire advanced skills in pursuing comparative research;
  3. while not fetishizing comparative research, that is, being aware of the strength and limitations of comparative research in general, its major elements and various strategies;
  4. think through how social processes (e.g. globalization) can influence the practice of social sciences;
  5. develop a sensitivity as to how different disciplines (sociology, history, anthropology) deal with comparisons, and think about the challenges of multi- and interdisciplinarity along these lines.

You are required

--to come to class prepared, (cca. 30% of your grade)

--to prepare a few critical summaries of the readings that are to initiate discussion in class (on a rotating basis), (30% of your grade)

--to devise a comparative research design based on the approaches discussed in class, preferably along the lines of your dissertation research. This is the term paper to be submitted shortly after the end of classes. (40% of the grade)

N.B. It is a PhD seminar and it is assumed that you are genuinely interested in participating in the class. Participation includes attendance. One absence during the semester is excusable, however, a note in advance about your missing a class is always appreciated.