Dienstag, 18. Juni 2013, 17:00 - 18:30 iCal

Making frames explicit

Embedded asymmetries, power effects & interferences in practicing comparison

Department of Science & Technology Studies, 'Seminar room STS' (C0602)
Universitätsstraße 7 / II / 6th floor, 1010 Wien


Nothing is, by itself, comparable or incomparable to anything else. Every comparison needs a more or less explicit frame – a frame of comparison. The frame can be taken for granted and black-boxed or carefully argued for. Some of the frames of comparison are developed by us, the researchers. However, it is also research participants and research funders (e.g. the EU) that push forward certain frames of comparison. Comparing is not simply a question of research but also a social and political practice. Making things in/comparable is a power strategy. It can be in the interest of an actor to make things incomparable or, on the contrary, comparable; making visible established frames of comparison, showing them as chosen not given, is to subvert existing orderings and powers.

In my paper I look in detail into how and with what (collateral) effects we practiced comparisons in two ethnographic research projects on changing academic cultures and practices, each of which had strong comparative elements. There were comparisons between European countries, “East and West”, different case studies, between our academic disciplines. What was taken as the frame of comparison – in the research proposal at the beginning, in research instruments in the middle, and in published texts in the end of a project? How did research participants’ frames interfere with researchers’ frames: How were they reflected, taken into account or made an object of inquiry sui generis? What epistemic and geo-political asymmetries were embedded in the frames of comparison and got destabilized throughout the projects? I want to show that social research can and should study comparative processes and, at the same time, cannot itself avoid engaging in comparison. Our comparisons should go, as a methodological and perhaps also political strategy, against the grain of the comparative frames in the terrain we move in as academics and ethnographers.

The presentation will be a work in progress on a chapter in the book provisionally titled "Practising Comparison: Revitalising the Comparative Act", to be edited by J. Deville, M. Guggenheim, and Z. Hrdlickova and published by the new Open Access STS publisher Mattering Press.


Tereza Stöckelová


Karin Neumann
Institut für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung