Você está na página 1de 12


!"#$%&$' )"* !"+,-*-$./% 0%1-$./.'+

!"#$%& (&))* +%*#%*
Fiom expeiience it appeais that the teim compaiative ielativism conjuies
images of incongiuence anu paiauox. I think this is not a bau thing. Peihaps it it
is even necessaiy. Yet, the teim is not meant as a meie ihetoiical teasei, but
iathei as an iuea that enable us to pose some specific pioblems.
Concietely, we have thought of compaiative ielativism as a piovocative
placeholuei unuei which ceitain types of science anu technology stuuies,
bioauly those affiliateu with Biuno Latoui's sociology of tianslation, ceitain
types of cultuial theoiy, ceitain types of piocess philosophy anu ceitain types of
social anthiopology can be fiuitfully biought togethei.
The compaiative methou itself appeais to be an exceptionally elusive
constiuction, both as iegaius what is to be compaieu anu what pioviues the
methou foi uoing so. I will say moie about this momentaiily. As foi ielativism, it
may be noteu that the epistemological conceins that have guiueu much
anthiopological theoiy foi quite a while, has long been challengeu by actoi-
netwoik theoiy anu othei STS appioaches. These focuseu on the uuiable
constiuction of netwoiks of people anu things, thiough piocesses that cieateu
scales of infiastiuctuie, technology, science anu politics anu ienueieu them
iiieveisible. These stuuies showeu an inteiest in vaiiable ontologies of scale-
builuing. Rathei than staiting with an epistemological inteiest in how uiffeient
actois inteipiet technologies, say, such stuuies investigateu the piocesses
thiough which technologies become iecalcitiant actois, iesisting anu ieuefining
human intentions anu inteipietive schemes. The minimal ontology at play heie
was one in which any entity -human oi nonhuman - woulu be assumeu capable
of acting, wheieas the specific netwoiks thiough which it might uemonstiate this
capacity, as well as the paiticulai piopeities it woulu tuin out to exhibit, woulu
be open foi empiiical anu analytical sciutiny. Rathei than staiting with pie-given
categoiies, such categoiies anu theii attenuant scaling uevices woulu be seen as
emeigent fiom stuuieu situations.
Although the title of the colloquium is compaiative ielativism the
ambition is, theiefoie, not to uevelop a fiamewoik unuei which the compaiative
anu the ielativistic, as these teims have been tiauitionally conceiveu, may be
piopeily integiateu. Rathei uiffeiently, we expect the juxtaposition of these
teims to opeiate as a uevice with which both may be maue to imploue, hopefully
cieating ioom foi uiffeient configuiations of inquiiy. I woulu like to biiefly
pioviue some cues about what I take to be involveu in such ieconfiguiation.

2"3%1' -#3 !"+,-*.'"#'
The woik of oui speakeis will figuie piominently but I can stait by
iefeiiing to none othei than Clauue Lvi-Stiauss. In the chaptei "Social
Stiuctuie" of the !"#$%"$#&' )*"+#,-,',./ vol. 1 he consiueis the
uiffeientiateu status the notion of the compaiative helu among some of
the ancestial figuies of anthiopology. Foi authois such as Raucliffe
Biown, Lvi Stiauss noteu, the pioblem with eailiei anthiopology was
that it was full of "allegeu coiielations" between the stiuctuies of uiveise
societies, which weie, howevei, "lacking empiiical suppoit". In the place
of such spuiious analytical piactice, he aigueu foi putting anthiopology
on a "bioau inuuctive basis". In contiast, Lvi-Stiauss iefeis to Buikheim
whose iefeience point was scientific law: when such a law "has been
pioveu by a well-peifoimeu expeiiment, this law is valiu univeisally".
Lvi-Stiauss foimulate the anthiopological uilemma as one of "eithei to
stuuy many cases in a supeificial anu in the enu ineffective way; oi to
limit oneself to a thoiough stuuy of a small numbei of cases, thus pioving
that in the last analysis one well uone expeiiment is sufficient to make a
As has often been iemaikeu upon Lvi-Stiauss was not afiaiu of
finuing inspiiation in the natuial sciences, an inclination that has
occasionally been evaluateu as negative. uiven his way of posing the
question of compaiison by invoking scientific law, it might be woithwhile
to consiuei how such laws opeiate in the natuial sciences. Inueeu, this is
the task STS histoiian Petei ualison has caiiieu out with specific
iefeience to that epitome of natuial science, mouein physics. 0ne of the
things ualison's analysis makes cleai is the unceitainty of the factual in
this context. Be outlines two moues of making knowleuge in mouein
physics, which he uesignates with the teims image anu logic.
Image-oiienteu expeiimentalists auheie to a mimetic tiauition that
aims to pieseive the foim of natuie thiough visual techniques of
iepiesentation. Foi this ieason they exhibit a seiious commitment to the
piouuction of so-calleu 'goluen events', images of such claiity anu
uistinctness that they invaiiably commanu acceptance. Neanwhile
theoiists woik within a logic tiauition that aggiegate laige amounts of
uata to make statistical aiguments foi the existence of a paiticle oi effect
(19). Wheieas theoiists "saciifices the uetail of the one foi the stability of
the many" (2u), expeiimentalists ielies on the iuea that "infoimation
about a single event ienueieu with full uetail is in all ielevant ways
equivalent to infoimation ueuuceu fiom paitial uetails about many events
of the same class".
To the image tiauition, the "passivity of theii systems of
iegistiation" ensuies that theoietical assumptions uo not entei analysis.
To the statistically oiienteu logical tiauition, howevei, "anything can
happen once", foi which ieason singulai cases anu goluen events iemain
uubious claimants to epistemic authoiity.
0nsuipiisingly theie aie uiffeiences between physicists' anu
anthiopologists' uebates but peihaps not the ones that woulu be
expecteu. The pioblem is not that anthiopology cannot auopt a natuial
science viewpoint since it is an inteipietive, fuzzy social science. Foi what
ualison's analysis - as much othei STS - shows is that even within the
haiuest of natuial sciences compaiable unceitainties as to what counts as
factual obtain.
A cential uiffeience, howevei, emeiges in that Lvi-Stiauss's
aigument mixes what ualison's physicists holu apait. As the image-
people, Lvi-Stiauss aims foi a unique case to uemonstiate a point. But
unlike them, he uoes not puipoit to establish the case thiough stiictly
inuuctive means, untainteu by theoiy. 0n the contiaiy, he is squaiely on
the logicians's siue as iegaius the necessity to mouel anu theoiize. Be is
not, howevei, in line with theii insistence that compaiable statistical
mateiial is iequiieu to auuuce facts.
Lvi-Stiauss maue the moie geneial obseivation that the fiuelity of
anthiopologists to the compaiative methou may in fact piecisely be
"sought in some soit of confusion between the pioceuuies useu to
establish.mouels". Bis aigument is that Buikheim's claim foi scientific
laws can holu only unuei a statistical iegime ielying on the gatheiing of
laige amounts of uata. Yet such uata can only be acceptable "insofai as
they aie all of the same kinu", a uemanu that cannot be met by
ethnogiaphy. Thus Lvi-Stiauss's eventually pioposes that the way
foiwaiu "lies in the selection of the 'case', which will be patteineu so as to
incluue elements which aie eithei on the same scale as the mouel to be
constiucteu oi on a uiffeient scale" (289), a conclusion that iaises all
kinus of ielativistic questions conceining the evokeu elements, scales,
mouels anu theii ielations.
When I choose to uwell on this it is because it seems to me that the
questions openeu by Lvi-Stiauss analysis iemains woith exploiing.
Night one imagine veisions of STS anu social anthiopology that stuuieu
goluen events, singulai yet capable of counting as a uemonstiation. Such
woulu have to be stuuies that escheweu common notions of compaiison,
having leaineu with Nietzsche that "to uieam of two equal foices, even if
they aie saiu to be of opposite senses is a coaise anu appioximate uieam,
a statistical uieam" (Beleuze 4S). But what might count as a goluen event
foi these uisciplines. What might such singulai uemonstiations show.
Wheie anu how might compaiative potential of a uiffeient oiuei
neveitheless emeige in such piojects.
Also, given that analytical teims aie nevei exteinal to objects of
inquiiy, one woulu want to ask what aie the contexts of constiuction that
might enable STS anu social anthiopology to let such events emeige.
Although I leave these questions in the open foi now, I ventuie that one
veision of compaiative ielativism is about iecupeiating the notion of the
goluen event.

4/%#$' ") 251$.#-$5*-1.'+
Something along those lines coulu be ieau fiom viveiios ue Castio's woik
on Ameiinuian shamans. In a papei entitleu "The Ciystal Foiest: Notes on
the 0ntology of Amazonian Spiiits", viveiios ue Castio uiscusses an
exposition given by the Yanomami Bavi Kopenawa on shamanic spiiits in
a uialogue with anthiopologist Biuce Albeit. Thiough these conveisations
Kopenawa piesents Albeit with an account of the woilu's stiuctuie anu
histoiy, a naiiative that also uoubles, as viveiios ue Castio's aigues, "as
an inuignant anu piouu claim foi the Yanomami people's iight to exist."
We aie witnessing in this uocument a veiitable "invention of cultuie",
viveiios ue Castio suggests, which is simultaneously "a masteipiece of
'inteiethnic politics". Compaiative ielativism can be useu to chaiacteiize
some of the things that aie paiticulaily fascinating about this situation.
The uesciiption of Yanomami cosmology is unsettling anu uifficult
to unueistanu: "The spiiits have uanceu foi shamans since the piimoiuial
times anu so they continue to uance touay. They look like human beings
but they aie as tiny as specks of spaikling uust. To be able to see them you
must inhale the powuei of the Yakoanahi tiee many, many times .Those
who uon't 'uiink' it iemain with the eyes of ghosts anu see nothing" (1).
The naiiative inteiweaves spiiits anu animals, shamans anu the ueau in a
way that leaus viveiios ue Castio to aigue foi its "cosmological
exemplaiity", in teims of aiticulating iueas that aie uistiibuteu acioss
tiibes in the iegion. Boes this mean that it constitutes something like a
goluen event .
Peihaps it uoes but if that is the case I woulu ventuie that it is also
because of an auuitional aspect of the exposition, one which has
immeuiate beaiing on the issue of compaiative ielativism. It is that -- in
viveiios ue Castio's suggestion -- Kopenawa is not simply uesciibing to a
White peison ceitain epistemological contents of a shamanic woiluview.
Rathei he is conuucting shamanism in action. Be "speaks about spiiits to
Whites anu equally about Whites on the basis of spiiits". What is stiiking
about this is that Kopenawa is explaining the uiffeiential basis of
compaiison anu evaluative capacity of Yanomami anu Whites ", Whites
fiom the point of view of Yanomami cosmology. As we heaiu, in oiuei to
be a shaman able to communicate with spiiits one must inhale powuei
many, many times. 0theiwise one ietains the eyes of ghosts anu see
nothing. To make unueistanuing easiei Kopenawa offeis a compaiison:
"It takes as much time as Whites take to leain the uesign of theii woius".
Shamans aie taught to uieam by inhaling powuei as Whites aie taught to
uieam by ieauing books. Compaiison of a kinu but of unlike with unlike,
since the uieams aie incommensuiate. An analogy of soits - but uiawn to
biiuge otheiwise incommunicable ontological uomains. Relativism,
peihaps, but ceitainly fiom an unusual angle.
In fact, viveiios ue Castio himself iesists the uesignation ielativism.
Be iefeis to Ameiinuian cosmology as a specific foim of peispectivism.
Kopenawa's uevice: powuei is to Shamans what books aie to whites
ieminus one of othei examples fiom the Ameiinuian liteiatuie: wheie
humans see iotten meat, vultuies see giilleu fish; wheie humans see a
muuhole, tapiis see a gieat ceiemonial house. 0f couise the pievious
example was in ieveise: as humans both you anu me see books oi
powuei: but what we see thiough these objects: the woilu as such -
uiffeis. This is not ielativism viveiios ue Castio says but iathei a kinu of
cultuial univeisalism that gives iise to natuial ielativity - oi
multinatuialism. These aie of couise Westein teims but the point is that
Ameiinuian thinking potentially wieaks havoc with establisheu Westein
notions of the ielative anu the univeisal, the natuial anu the cultuial. The
ielativistic compaiison of Westein views as seen fiom the West anu
Inuian views seen fiom the Amazon, with Inuian views seen fiom the
West anu Westein views seen fiom the Amazon enable the iethinking of
uiffeiences anu possible ielations between the two fiom both siues -oi all
-- simultaneously. In the least it might be ventuieu that a uisposition foi
attuning to many woilus simultaneously anu a sensitivity anu willingness
to hesitate when engaging question of how such woilus might be
connecteu without unueimining uiffeience, is at play heie.

0%1-$./.'$ 6#&.%$.%' .# $7% 8%'$
I have maue these foiays into Ameiinuian anthiopology to make the questions of
compaiison ,0 1+&" anu 0,# 1+,2, ielativism 13"+ #4.&#56 ", 1+&", obvious, anu,
peihaps, uncomfoitable. Euio-Ameiican univeisities, howevei, is wheie the
notion of the ielative, oi ielativistic aiouse the most feeling. Baibaia Beiinstein
Smith, in paiticulai, has uocumenteu the tioubleu histoiy not of ielativism -4# 64
but of its invocation, not least as a chaige &.&3*6" ieseaich in fielus incluuing
anthiopology anu STS. Phantom heiesy is the teim Smith uses to uesignate the
imputeu moial, political oi scientific ills following fiom auopting ielativistic
methouological oi theoietical stances, incluuing the famous symmetiy postulates
of Baviu Blooi anu Biuno Latoui but incluuing also a wiue aiiay of aiguments
fiom scholais of such uiveise bent as Ruth Beneuict, Richaiu Roity anu Nichel
It is inteiesting in this iegaiu to note that ielativism can function as a
chaige fiom two siues: eithei as ienueiing heteiogeneous situations
homogenous oi vice veisa. If, as in one of Smith's examples, newei histoiies of
Bolocaust contextualize these events thiough compaiison with othei "massive
state-sponsoieu slaughteis" (21), this can be seen by ciitics as a ielativizing
move that "lessen uiamatic uiffeiences" anu cieate "immoial equivalences".
Relativism unueimines the capacity to see the Bolocaust as a unique event,
because it encouiages compaiison of 474#/"+3*.. But the opposite aigument is
also maue: that ielativism uisables compaiison of &*/"+3*.. Liteiaiy scholai
Satya Nohanty, foi example, holus that it is a consequence of ielativist views that
"it is necessaiy to conceive the 0thei as a iauically sepaiable anu sepaiate entity
in oiuei to commanu oui iespect" anu that "theie aie no common teims
between cultuies". Nohanty thinks that it follows that the ielativist neeus not
take the othei seiiously. To avoiu this piesumeu consequences, notions such as
minimally shaieu iationality have been pioposeu. It has been put to use, foi
example, to iefute Evans-Piitchaiu's analysis of Zanue witchciaft. This famous
stuuy began with the piesupposition that witchciaft maue sense within Zanue
cosmology, even if witches, accoiuing to Evans-Piitchaiu, coulu not 6"#3%"'/
6-4&83*. exist.
It is piecisely this kinu of ielativism that, accoiuing to ciitics such as
Nohanty, is pationising anu uisabling in spite of its ihetoiic of toleiance. It
ienueis otheis benighteu because it assumes that Westein knowleuge making
piactices fiimly establish what can anu cannot exist but uenies the capacity to
know this "#$'/ to the othei. To an extent this ciiticism of ielativism conveiges
with Isabelle Stengeis's aiguments against "toleiance" but the pioposeu solution
is entiiely uiffeient. Wheieas Nohanty piefeis to extenu a univeisal human
capacity foi iational agency to people eveiywheie anu evaluate theii activities
on that basis (no uoubt finuing Azanue magic iiiational on that scoie) the lattei
insteau suggest that iueals such as the minimally iational aie piopeily applicable
nowheie, incluuing in the West. As we leain fiom Smith anu othei speakeis it is
not that they aie moie like us than we might think, but iathei that not even we
aie like oui images of ouiselves.

9-*$.-1 !"+,-*.'"#'
I ietuin once again to the question of what we compaie foi anu what is
compaieu. Cleaily it matteis whethei one is in the shoes of Albeit, Kopenawa oi
viveiios ue Castio commenting on both; whethei we ieau Evans-Piitchaiu to
leain about Zanue witchciaft oi magic at laige, oi Baibaia Beiinstein Smith to
leain about the uebates this analysis has engenueieu. The scale of compaiison
influences what counts as uata, analysis, inteipietation anu theoiy. Scales of
investigation anu analysis fluctuate. This piopeily ielative point is often
obscuieu, howevei, by conventional categoiies - Stiathein's peisuasive fictions
- that come to uefine what counts as fact anu what as inteipietation, what as the
explaineu anu what as that which explains.
Although this obseivation might suggest that key questions heie ielate to
subjective stanu-point oi analytical choice, Naiilyn Stiathein's woik suggests
that it is neithei as inuiviuualizeu oi epistemological as that. It is not
inuiviuualizeu because the social scientist is always pait of multiple piactices
anu netwoiks that enable anu constiain what can be seen as piopei scaling of
phenomena in specific situations. It is also not as epistemological as one might
imagine because so-calleu theoiies anu iueas exist on the same level as so-calleu
piactices anu actions. We might thus say that the theoietical anu the empiiical is
equally anu fully empiiical oi alteinatively that it is equally anu fully conceptual.
The pioblems engenueieu by this situation, so well analyzeu by Stiathein, is that
the question of how to implicate concepts, facts, iueas anu piactices (to ietain
the teims) cannot be iesolveu in geneial but must always be solveu in paiticulai.
In my view it is one of the paiticulai meiits of Stiathein's that she has paiu
sustaineu anu explicit attention to these mobile ielations.
In the new intiouuction to 9&#"3&' :,**4%"3,*6 she notes that: "I have iun
togethei analysis, inteipietation anu theoietical uiscussion as though they weie
all paititioneu fiom 'uata' (oi cioss-cultuial compaiison)" (S of piint). But as the
'as though' inuicates, it is eviuent that this cutting iesults fiom "ciitical
uecisions" peitaining to the level anu scope of analysis anu to the obseivations
ueemeu woith compaiing. Compaiison, iathei than a methou that can be useu to
holu uistinct social oi cultuial systems against each othei (Stiathein 1987 2S4)
becomes the cential pioblem, one that is bounu with questions anu politics of
scale: what comes to look big, small, impoitant oi insignificant, foi whom anu
fiom wheie, anu why. (intio S of piint). Anu since no geneial compaiative
methou is aiounu to uo the job foi hei, Stiathein is extiaoiuinaiily meticulous in
accounting foi the contexts of constiuction that have enableu hei to figuie (anu
figuie in) so many "ethnogiaphical moments" oi peihaps "goluen events".

9%*'5-'./% :.;$."#' -#3 4/%#$' ") <;.%#;%
Stiathein's uiscussion of the peisuasive fictions of anthiopology can be
inteiestingly contiasteu with Isabelle Stengeis's analysis of facts anu fictions in
physics. Stengeis's aigues that natuial scientists such as ualileo stiuggleu not
only against iecalcitiant natuie but also against the ingiaineu scepticism of
society. Conqueiing scepticism is hei phiase foi the effoits scientists put into
making facts out of what aie initially hunches, suppositions, fictions. But the aim
of ualileo was not to piouuce a peisuasive fiction. It was to piouuce what woulu
become incontestable fact. Stengeis aigues that conqueiing scepticism in oiuei
to piouuce such facts is ielateu to a tiiple uelegation of powei. That is: 1) the
powei of the scientist, by means of his appaiatus 2) to %,*04# $-,* the object, the
powei S) to ietuin to the scientist the powei to let him oi hei speak in its name.
The nonhuman object is cential to this enueavoui anu so is the ieuuctive
ambition: peisuasive fictions aie not enough foi physicists, at least not in theii
own estimation. As Stengeis explains she is "passionately inteiesteu in a uomain
of human piactices the value of which uepenus upon, oi at least implies,
eliminating the chaims of conveisation" (2SS). Such elimination is the uomain of
natuial sciences, wheieas the chaims of conveisation appeai quite ueai to
anthiopologists. Anu scientists' inteiest in achieving such elimination poses
pioblems foi those who want to stuuy science. Not least theie is the pioblem of
how to situate an analysis of mouein science that is both attentive to science as
fielus of social, political anu cultuial emeigence &*5 to official claims of science
to be the one spheie of human activity that is piecisely not foimeu by such
The notion of the event ieappeais heie since foi Stengeis it is cential in
oiuei to locate the scope of authoiity of any claim. 0ne may biing about an event
in the laboiatoiy, conqueiing scepticism locally, but this conveys no iight to
contiol the life the event takes on subsequently in a bioauei ecology of piactices.
The pioblem occuis as scientists claim as theii spheie of authoiity society at
laige anu claim to the iight to pionounce on 1+&" 2$6" ;4 5,*4. In such cases
science may become a "powei machine" no longei thiiving on its own ongoing
inventions but iathei seizing "foi its own benefit uiveise conciete histoiical
piouuctions anu meanings". In such situations science has taken on the mantle of
Stengeis follows Beleuze in pioposing a uiffeient iole foi scientists (anu
heie we shoulu incluue social scientists). It is uefineu by "thinking in fiont of"
what we stuuy. She is auamant that this uoes not automatically entail auuiessing
subjects oi helping them, oi shaiing hope oi faith with them, but, iathei, not
insulting them with oui powei to justify eveiything. Talking in the context fiom
which I quote to theologians, Stengeis insists that they ought to "think in fiont of
the witches, pagans, oi. 'fetishists'" (2S8). Anu she asks: "what woulu count as a
conveisation "in fiont of" all the unknown people that oui woius so easily
uisqualify, in fact, even when those woius outwaiuly speak of mutual
appieciation, iespect anu love." (2S8). Following A.N. Whiteheau anu Benii
Beigson, Stengeis asks us to consiuei how new kinus of "ieal togetheiness" may
be piouuceu even as the vast uiveigences between people aie iecognizeu.

4;"1"=> ") 9*-;$.;%
This ambition, in my view, is fiimly within the scope of compaiative ielativism.
Not least if one consiueis that Stengeis's ecology of piactice is not stiatifieu with
science on top of society but iathei compiises physicists anu psychologists,
witches, hypnotists anu junkies, a motley ciew shaiing only an occasional
capacity anu willingness to expeiiment with cieating situations inhabiteu by new
contiasts anu appetites.
Recall that Lvi-Stiauss aftei uue consiueiation pioposeu that
anthiopology stick to single case stuuies, letting go of the ambition to statistical
significance. Be uiu suggest, howevei, that one select cases likely to be suitable
as mouels; likely to facilitate the event. Yet as Stengeis's suggests theie is no
methou to cieate the event, theie is only the expeiiment anu occasional success.
At the same time the event, of the social oi natuial scientist, uoes not emeige of
its own accoiu, it is not founu simply as empiiical uatum. It must be suppoiteu,
piouueu, inuuceu anu meuiateu. Anu it must be constiucteu in thought. The
woik of Stiathein, Smith, Stengeis anu ue Castio all testifies to this fact. Anu it
uoes so in a way that we have touay taken the iisk of placing unuei the teim
compaiative ielativism, which ueals in ontological junctuies anu uisjunctuies
iathei than minimally shaieu iationalities, in multiple agents incluuing
technologies anu spiiits, iathei than in human intentions, naiiatives anu
lifewoilus alone.
Placing the woik of touay's esteemeu speakeis unuei the same bannei
implies ceitain uangeis, not least one of claiming a shaieu pioject oi similai
ambition foi all of them. I uo not think this is at all the case. If one can talk of
compaiative ielativism as a conceptual matiix of soits, it holus, in Stengeis's
woius that "it has no authoiity of its own". Not aiming to mobilize anu juuge it
woiks - if only it woiks! - "thiough insinuation anu tiansfoimative effects as an
infectious luie foi new cieative contiasts" (24S). The aim is not agieement but
alliance (248). Whethei oi not such alliance is occasioneu heie, I look foiwaiu,
veiy much inueeu, to see how it plays out.