This article exploits the “binary license” offered by the title of the symposium in which it appears (“Comparative Relativism”) as a kind of promise of connection. The author suggests, however tentatively, that in the challenge of heterogeneity, fractality, perspective/-alism, and multiplicities lies the power of the forking pathway: the moment a relation is created through divergence. If we are invited—in the same breath—to consider forms of comparison and forms of relativism (dropping difference and similarity), we are also offered two paths, one based on a world of singularities and multiplicities, and the other on a world of not-quite repetitions. The article asks if the binary is not essential to the epistemic work that Western (Euro-American) scholars might want to do, since we forever reinvent the divide between the modern and the post-/pre-modern. Strathern assumes the anthropologist's license to talk about concepts through persons, and begins by asking how Papua New Guineans who come together in a city compare themselves, and in contrast to ethnic comparisons elsewhere (e.g., contra Sarah Green's Balkan interactions). In talking about persons through concepts, it is worth asking what is entailed in relativizing one scholar's work through that of another. The author says that her “hunch” is that in both cases the analyst might wish to have the liberty of discerning—in the same breath—the multiplicities of what John Law and Annemarie Mol call perspectivalism (their very general alternative to comparison) and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro's radically divergent perspectivism (a self-contained, recursive and above all socially specific relativism).
Marilyn Strathern; BINARY LICENSE. Common Knowledge 1 January 2011; 17 (1): 87–103. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2010-040
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