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In defence of bad comparisons? Comparisons and their motivations in Indonesia's Riau Islands

Long, Nicholas J. ORCID: 0000-0002-4088-1661 (2022) In defence of bad comparisons? Comparisons and their motivations in Indonesia's Riau Islands. In: Pelkmans, Mathijs and Walker, Harry, (eds.) How People Compare. LSE Monographs on Social Anthropology. Routledge, Abingdon, UK, 25 - 46. ISBN 9781032229973

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Identification Number: 10.4324/9781003283669-3


‘Bad comparisons’ premised on the assumption of equivalence between two disparate entities have long been the subject of both epistemological and anthropological critique. Yet, as I demonstrate with reference to ethnographic materials form Indonesia’s Riau Islands Province, the people with whom anthropologists work sometimes embrace forms of ‘bad’ comparison that anthropologists would be inclined to denounce, even claiming them to be ‘affirming’ or ‘motivating’. Such a situation reveals that an anthropology of comparisons, and anthropological responses to comparisons, must understand the affective, as well as epistemological, dimensions of comparative practice. In this chapter, I show how personal histories of comparison, shaped by colonial legacies, globalisation, economic inequality, and kinship structure, have profound implications for the affective consequences of specific comparative acts. Such an argument not only explains why ‘bad comparisons’ might routinely be made – indeed, might prove vital – but also presents a challenge to the universalising and evolutionary assumptions evident in the field of ‘social comparison theory’. I argue that comparison and its affects are better analysed through the psychoanalytically inspired frameworks that have been central to the tradition of person-centred ethnography and reflect on the implications of such insights for narrative strategy within anthropology itself at the dawn of what some have dubbed the discipline’s ‘new comparativism’.

Item Type: Book Section
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 The Author
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2023 08:18
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2023 10:19

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