Comparison Re-invented: Adaptation of Universal Methods to African Studies (Conference Report)

Franzisca Zanker, Katharina Newbery


Drawing from a combination of specific, empirical research projects with different theoretical backgrounds, a workshop discussed one methodological aspect often somewhat overlooked in African Studies: comparison. Participants addressed several questions, along with presenting overviews of how different disciplines within African Studies approach comparison in their research and naming specific challenges within individual research projects. The questions examined included: Why is explicit comparative research so rare in African Studies? Is comparative research more difficult in the African context than in other regions? Does it benefit our research? Should scholars strive to generalise beyond individual cases? Do studies in our field require an explicit comparative design, or will implicit comparison suffice? Cross-discipline communication should help us to move forward in this methodological debate, though in the end the subject matter and specific research question will lead to the appropriate comparative approach, not the other way round.

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