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  • Foreword / Thomas Gibson  vii

    Acknowledgments  xi

    Introduction  1

    Part I. The Fragment and the Whole

    1. The Comparative Advantage of Anthropology  25

    2. Market and Money: A Critique of Rational Choice Theory  48

    Part II. Civilization and Comparison

    3. Keeping the Muslims Out: Concepts of Civilization, Civility, and Civil Society in India, China, and Western Europe  61

    4. The Afterlife of Images  80

    Part III. Comparing Exclusion

    5. Lost in the Mountains: Notes on Diversity in the Southeast Asian Mainland Massif  107

    6. Who Cares? Care Arrangements and Sanitation for the Poor in India and Elsewhere  130

    A Short Conclusion  147

    Notes  155

    Bibliography  171

    Index  183
  • Thomas Gibson

  • "The Value of Comparison gives a rather unflinching critique of Western cultural assumptions while firmly seated in the very field it scrutinizes. . . . [Van der Veer] does not merely critique traditional methods and pathways of analysis used in sociological research, but offers concrete examples and discussions where a more nuanced and complex comparative method can be applied and produce better results."

    "Van der Veer advocates the investigation of specific ethnographic contexts, which he calls 'fragments of social life'—such as caste, class, regional identity, gender, and gift exchange—in order to highlight comparisons.  . . . Surely, a truly holistic approach for twenty-first- century anthropology ought to be a combination of van der Veer’s fragmentary/comparative model with the empirical findings of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, behavioral economics, evolutionary biology, and social psychology, as well as intensive ethnographic research."

    “Self-consciously intent on fragmenting certainty, Peter van der Veer makes a very convincing case for the productive instability and provocative inconclusiveness of definitive conclusions. As all good books do, this one opens outward to suggest as many questions as it answers.”

    "Van der Veer’s project is not to tell the origin stories of anthropology, but look to the future where the comparative anthropological lens will focus on crucial sociocultural ‘fragments’ to dismantle the logic of Western modernity and rationality. This informative and theoretically sophisticated work will serve as an important reckoner to that end."

    "[A] fresh and lucid text. . . . Putting comparison back on the agenda is timely and necessary not only for organizing our research projects but also for finding a way out of the partly imposed and partly self-chosen relative isolation in which anthropologists often find themselves in academia and public debate."

    "This book is very welcome as a message from anthropology to the rest of the social sciences in a time when big data and calls for predictability (opinion polls), relevance, applicability, and reliability (surveys, 'hard' facts, large-scale analysis with universal validity) are dominant is public academic discourse. This book is a defense for fragmentary knowledge, for slow and thorough knowledge that cannot rely on taken-for-granted universals that characterize, for instance, quantitative methodologies, rational choice theory, and evolutionary theory. This I applaud!"

    "I challenge any reader not to come away from it feeling both wiser and better informed about its empirical subject matter, and invigorated about the pragmatic power of anthropological comparison."

    Reviews

  • "The Value of Comparison gives a rather unflinching critique of Western cultural assumptions while firmly seated in the very field it scrutinizes. . . . [Van der Veer] does not merely critique traditional methods and pathways of analysis used in sociological research, but offers concrete examples and discussions where a more nuanced and complex comparative method can be applied and produce better results."

    "Van der Veer advocates the investigation of specific ethnographic contexts, which he calls 'fragments of social life'—such as caste, class, regional identity, gender, and gift exchange—in order to highlight comparisons.  . . . Surely, a truly holistic approach for twenty-first- century anthropology ought to be a combination of van der Veer’s fragmentary/comparative model with the empirical findings of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, behavioral economics, evolutionary biology, and social psychology, as well as intensive ethnographic research."

    “Self-consciously intent on fragmenting certainty, Peter van der Veer makes a very convincing case for the productive instability and provocative inconclusiveness of definitive conclusions. As all good books do, this one opens outward to suggest as many questions as it answers.”

    "Van der Veer’s project is not to tell the origin stories of anthropology, but look to the future where the comparative anthropological lens will focus on crucial sociocultural ‘fragments’ to dismantle the logic of Western modernity and rationality. This informative and theoretically sophisticated work will serve as an important reckoner to that end."

    "[A] fresh and lucid text. . . . Putting comparison back on the agenda is timely and necessary not only for organizing our research projects but also for finding a way out of the partly imposed and partly self-chosen relative isolation in which anthropologists often find themselves in academia and public debate."

    "This book is very welcome as a message from anthropology to the rest of the social sciences in a time when big data and calls for predictability (opinion polls), relevance, applicability, and reliability (surveys, 'hard' facts, large-scale analysis with universal validity) are dominant is public academic discourse. This book is a defense for fragmentary knowledge, for slow and thorough knowledge that cannot rely on taken-for-granted universals that characterize, for instance, quantitative methodologies, rational choice theory, and evolutionary theory. This I applaud!"

    "I challenge any reader not to come away from it feeling both wiser and better informed about its empirical subject matter, and invigorated about the pragmatic power of anthropological comparison."

  • "Passionately defending a critically informed anthropological method, Peter van der Veer takes on big names and massively funded projects in the social sciences—and he does not suffer fools gladly. He exposes the 'emperor's clothes,' critically revealing the persistence of unexamined Western cultural presuppositions while challenging the tendency toward generalization and cultural essentialism in the social sciences and the political uses of notions of civilization and civility to exclude unwanted others." — Kenneth Dean, coauthor of, Ritual Alliances of the Putian Plain

    "Without question, The Value of Comparison will be a widely read book among those in search of a framework for more trenchantly confronting a world and a public discourse increasingly dominated by simplistic, positivistic, and poorly informed ideas about the nature of society. Peter van der Veer is especially effective in debunking the implicit binary assumption that treats an undifferentiated West as 'rational' and an equally undifferentiated 'Rest' as 'religious.' What van der Veer has to say is of paramount importance." — Michael Herzfeld, author of, Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics and the Real Life of States, Societies, and Institutions

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  • Description

    In The Value of Comparison Peter van der Veer makes a compelling case for using comparative approaches in the study of society and for the need to resist the simplified civilization narratives popular in public discourse and some social theory. He takes the quantitative social sciences and the broad social theories they rely on to task for their inability to question Western cultural presuppositions, demonstrating that anthropology's comparative approach provides a better means to understand societies. This capacity stems from anthropology's engagement with diversity, its fragmentary approach to studying social life, and its ability to translate difference between cultures. Through essays on topics as varied as iconoclasm, urban poverty, Muslim immigration, and social exclusion van der Veer highlights the ways that studying the particular and the unique allows for gaining a deeper knowledge of the whole without resorting to simple generalizations that elide and marginalize difference.

    About The Author(s)

    Peter van der Veer is Director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity at Göttingen, Germany and Distinguished University Professor at Utrecht University. He is the author of several books, including The Modern Spirit of Asia: The Spiritual and the Secular in China and India.
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