Kirsch, Thomas G. 2018. Navigating Identities, Similarities and Differences. An Anthropological Comparison. In Similarity. A Paradigm for Culture Theory, edited by Bhatti, Anil & Dorothee Kimmich. New York / New Delhi: Columbia University Press / Tulika Press, 273-298.
"One deficiency of the recent history of academic anthropology seems to be that the intellectual enthusiasm for difference, alterity, and understanding the other has eclipsed many of the questions dealing with relations of similarity. In contrast to this fixation on difference, in this chapter I explore how thinking in similarities can be made fruitful for current anthropological research. This is not meant to be a plea to return to the search for anthropological constants or “human nature.” Instead, I pursue a heuristic strategy that has proven to be productive in recent decades of anthropological research, namely, making concepts of scientific self-reflection the object of empirical studies in other lifeworlds. For example, if the term othering—as introduced in anthropology by Johannes Fabian (1983)—was initially used in the context of postcolonial debates on (academic) Orientalism, over the course of time anthropological research with this term was able to transcend this context and provide revealing insights into how powerful processes of othering could emerge, not only between colonizing (examining) and colonized (examined) societies, but also within postcolonial societies. In this chapter I use this heuristic procedure in order to plumb the potential of the concept of “similarity” for the understanding of a specific ethnographic issue, namely the lay-criminological etiology of crime in South Africa."