Re: seeking refs on comparative work

Natalie Marie Underberg (natamu@UCLINK3.BERKELEY.EDU)
Wed, 31 Jul 1996 09:22:43 -0700

Hi Wade,

For a study that (in my opinion, and Marshall Sahlins', if that'll
convince you more) successfully executes a cross-cultural analysis of an
element of culture (in this case, cosmology), I would highly suggest
Gregory Schrempp's *Magical Arrows: the Maori, the Greeks, and the
Folklore of the Universe." I'd like to know what you think of it.


On Wed, 31 Jul 1996, Wade Tarzia wrote:

> Hello -- I'm seeking opinions and references on the use of comparisions or
> analogies in anthropological research (esp. folkloric, but not limited to
> it). By all means, speak to me in general or specific terms. This is my
> request in a nutshell. What follows is the context for my request, which
> probably isn't critical reading but may focus the issue for some.
> I am aware that the making of ethnographic analogies is risky and seems to
> be quite out of favor. Since I sometimes work on medieval folklore, which
> is recorded in manuscripts and is thus of uncertain origin (ie, we know
> little of context, oral or literary basis in creation, what mixture of
> traditional and nontraditional elements, etc.).
> When I was a graduate student I was prone to making many kinds of analogies
> -- for example, I wondered if study of modern African
> warrior-cattle-herding people might illuminate the actions of heroes
> depicted in medieval Irish sagas (which depicted warrior-cattle-herders).
> In publishing some of this work I ran into peer reviewers who reacted who
> reacted with extreme distaste as well others for whom the issue did not
> seem critical (at least in the way I had stated it). Since I took my PhD
> out of an English department, the issue *then* wasn't an issue because the
> professors were either (1) intrigued by the comparisons and my
> anthropological approach or (2) entirely mystified by why I had strayed so
> far from Shakespeare ;-) and were thus out of the picture from the start.
> (now I wish I gone through an anthro dept. -- there are no jobs in either
> discipline, so why not? But that's another story.)
> I was lucky enough to recruit an archaeologist for my dissertation
> committee, who kept me out of serious trouble, but still the issue has not
> evaporated for me. Though I recognize the roles of contingency and
> tradition-dependence in human behavior, I have imagined the similar working
> of the human mind (in at least very broad terms) and somewhat similar
> social parameters (for example, the needs of chiefdom societies with a
> pastoral component) can produce similar responses within some range of
> options (ie, both medieval Irish saga and modern Arabic R'wala nomads used
> the concept of ritualized raiding involving attacks deemed honorable or
> dishonorable -- is this coincidence or a useful control over conflict in
> societies with somewhat fluid social links operating through kinship, such
> that reduction of conflict might avoid kinship conflicts? etc., etc., just
> an example, don't focus on this specific).
> Please make me aware of publications that may have treated the use or taboo
> against making analogies between societies separated by time and space.
> And opinions are welcome, either public or private. Thanks.
> --wade tarzia