This piece addresses Marilyn Strathern's article, “Binary License,” and the important contribution she makes to the development of an anthropology that is truly comparative and that aims to escape some important disadvantages of an earlier relativism. This comment places her in the context of the related effort of Louis Dumont, which involved a sustained critique of Eurocentricism, in which he saw anthropological comparativism as hitherto being bound. A question is raised concerning the extent to which Strathern has escaped the kind of criticism that Dumont developed. Additionally, Strathern's Hagen materials are considered in relation to the earlier Zambian studies of the “Manchester school” of anthropology and which addressed similar ethnographic materials. Strathern's work is regarded in this comment as bearing some similarity with current directions in actor-network theory, although sustaining an ontological approach that is seen by some as contributing to the risks of anthropological relativism. The comment attempts to work within the spirit of Strathern's original contribution and is concerned with how anthropological comparativism may avoid some of the pitfalls that are commonly associated with it.
Bruce Kapferer; STRATHERN'S NEW COMPARATIVE ANTHROPOLOGY: Thoughts from Hagen and Zambia. Common Knowledge 1 January 2011; 17 (1): 104–110. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2010-041
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