Regional Comparison in Historical Anthropology



book chapter in Comparing Cultures: Innovations in Comparative Ethnography, Ted Lowe and Michael Schnegg, Eds., Cambridge University Press (2020)


While regional comparison’s methodological relevance is gradually diminishing as regards socio-cultural anthropology’s analyses of the contemporary, its significance for historical anthropology may in fact increase if properly assessed and re-configured. The present chapter argues this point by discussing three examples from historical South Arabia. These cases highlight the significance of adequately reflecting and identifying existing notions of the “regional” in any given research context as the basic frame of reference in this version of comparison. As a crucial device from science studies and Critical Theory, the distinction between contexts of discovery, of justification, and of application may be useful for a reliable yet open and flexible conceptualization that also includes self-reflexive as well as indigenous notions of the regional. At the same time, it is suggested to combine these differentiations of regional comparison’s inner configuration with improved forms of triangulating it with other methodological devices, ranging from network analysis to medium-range insights from general anthropology. In turn, this may advance the operational usefulness of regional comparison in historical anthropology by strengthening its potential for highlighting both regional commonalities as well as diversities among the phenomena under scrutiny.

Cambridge University Press