— Michael Guggenheim

Here is a call for papers, for a workshop that I co-organize:

Call for Papers: Apples and Oranges: Practicing Comparison

Three day workshop, 13-15 September 2012, Goldsmiths, University of London

Deadline for abstracts: April 20th 2012

Qualitative social science has become uneasy about comparing: it is easily frightened by both accusations from within quantitative traditions that assert the inability of its methods to control variables precisely enough and a colonial past in which cultural comparisons had a dubious taint of racism. However, despite being a loaded term, comparisons are nonetheless routine within qualitative social science, although they are often more implicit than explicit. We perform them in conferences where we group in thematically similar panels, in more or less strident academic debates, as well as in our everyday practices as a way to understand and contextualise our own research.

However, we observe that this seemingly comparative practice is rarely named as such. Further, we also suspect — while being acutely aware of the problematic history of comparison as a social scientific activity, whether in the service of forms of reductive positivism or a hierarchy of cultures — that this history does not explain the degree of ongoing sensitivities about the value of naming certain research as comparative.

More directly, we suggest that abstaining from explicit comparisons unnecessarily constrains qualitative research. This conference seeks responses to this problematic. Questions we are interested in exploring include — but are not limited to — the following:

* Accounts of Comparative Practices: What are the difficulties of (collaborative) comparative projects? How do projects deal with cases that refuse comparison, with fields that loose their comparative features and with theoretical concepts that fail to help to compare?

* Comparison policing:how is (non)comparative practice enacted and policed across academic life and in different disciplines?

* Strange comparisons:What is a ‘strange’ comparison? What is a ‘proper’ comparison?

* Incomparability/Failed comparisons:what are the limits to comparison? How are these limits performed? According to which modes of expertise?

* Comparison and value:Is comparison a technology of commensuration? What is lost? What is gained?

* Comparison and temporality:what kinds of comparisons are ‘restudies’? To what extent do comparisons across time equate to comparisons across space?

* Comparison, method and theory:how should theory inform comparative practice? At what point? Might experimental methodologies generate new registers for comparison?

* Beyond comparison:which other terms and frameworks can be used to describe the value of comparative practices? Which alternatives can be proposed to the strength and authority of certain ways of doing comparison in academic discourses and beyond?


We are keen to encourage interdisciplinary engagement around these questions, and welcome submissions from those working within anthropology, cultural studies, geography, Science and Technology Studies, sociology, and other related disciplines. We also encourage submissions that look at the practices of comparisons of actual, ongoing projects. This might be, for example, projects which struggle with making their objects comparable, or which test standard ideas about and objects of comparison, or collaborative projects dealing with the practice of comparison. Our focus in this event is less on theoretical or historical contributions and more on the way we perform comparisons in our everyday practice.

Abstracts of around 300-500 words should be sent to organising.disaster@gold.ac.uk by April 20th 2012.

Successful submissions, potentially drawing on participants’ own experiences, will be expected to circulate a short (1,000 — 3,000 words) response to the problematics sketched above by August 31st .

These will be circulated around conference participants in advance of the event, with the aim of stimulating richer, more productive dialogue. These need not be fully fleshed out academic papers, but can be looser responses to the problematic of comparison. We also invite contributors to suggest other formats as they prefer that either perform comparison or allow for specific insights into the issue of comparison.

There is a small amount of funding available for those without funding for travel and accommodation. Please indicate on your application if and how much funding you would need.

The conference is organised by the ERC-funded research projects “Organizing Disaster” (Michael Guggenheim, Zuzana Hrdlickova, Joe Deville) at the Department of Sociology/CSISP and “Gambling in Europe” (Rebecca Cassidy, Claire Loussouarn, Andrea Pisac) at the Department of Anthropology, both at the Goldsmiths, University of London.

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together with Judith Kroell and Bernd Kraeftner of shared inc. To appear in Tumult, Zeitschrift für Verkehrswissenschaft, Nr. 38, 2012,  edited by Jörg Potthast and Alexander Klose, special issue on “container”.





The article details a project with refugees and asylum seekers, who are researchers, scientists or academics. We did a collaborative exhibition, as part of “die wahr/falsch inc.” and founded an organisation called “researchers without borders“, headed by Judith Kröll, that continues to provide  places to practice and work for these people, so that they do not loose their skills while waiting for their decision on their status.

The article builds on a double notion of the container, both as a literal exhibition venue, but also as practice of (de-)containment whereby refugees are assigned roles, status and practices both through our exhibition but also bureaucratic procedures.

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Here is a lecture series I organise this term, Tuesdays, Goldsmiths, RHB 137, Speakers: Liz Moor (1. Nov), Harry Collins (8 Nov), David Oswell (6. Dec) and Steve Fuller (13 Dec).

The audio files of Oswell’s and Fuller’s talk are here:



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The first talk on the new research project with Bernd Kraeftner and Judith Kroell. A Methods Lab Lecture at Goldsmiths, Sociology, Thursday 27 October, 5-7 pm Small Hall.

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in: Candide, Journal for Architectural Knowledge, Nr. 4, 2011. pdf


In this article, Michael Guggenheim analyzes architectural writing on the change of use of buildings published since the early 1970s. He shows that, in its sum, this literature fails its object because the process of change of use cannot be grasped in established architectural categories, categories that refer to fixed states. Guggenheim looks in detail at the metaphors and other figures of speech used to compensate this theoretical shortcoming. He concludes that architectural discourse needs to develop a processual view of buildings to more clearly differentiate between the three relevant perspectives—technological, semiotic, and sociological—in understanding the relationship between buildings and society.


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pdf: History of the Human Sciences, 2012, February 2012 vol. 25 no. 1 99-118, original publication


How has sociology framed places of knowledge production and what is the specific power of the laboratory for this history? This article looks at how sociology and STS have historically framed the world as laboratory in three steps: First, in early sociology, the laboratory was an important metaphor to conceive of sociology as a scientific enterprise. In the 1950ies, the trend reversed and with the emergence of a ‘qualitative sociology’, sociology was seen in opposition to laboratory work. With the ascent of laboratory studies, the laboratory perspective was again applied to many fields, including sociology itself. Based on a definition of a laboratory as aiming at placeless knowledge and being inconsequential this article argues that the two waves of laboratorization were metaphorical and did not really turn the world into a laboratory. Instead, two alternative concepts, those of the unilatory and the locatory, are proposed to gain a more precise understanding of some of these metaphorical uses of the term laboratory.

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Comments on a Menu for the Workshop “Emotions on a Plate”

Held at Collegium Helveticum, 21. March 2007. (Together with Florian Keller).

A description of a menu that renders the theme “emotions and culture” edible, from childhood memories to cultural variations and the receptors that make memories real.

Appeared in: Johannes Fehr, Gerd Folkers (Hg.) Gefühle zeigen. Manifestationsformen emotionaler Prozesse. Edition Collegium Helveticum, Band 5, 2009.

Further theorized in the article:

The Proof Is in the Pudding. On ‘Truth to Materials’ in the Sociology of
Translations, Followed by an Attempt to Improve It.

STI-Studies, Special Issue on “The Five Senses of the Sciences”.

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A description of a cooking-workshop that deals with the problem of collectively inventing a menu from a fixed set of accidental ingredients. Invented to teach cooking without recipe books. Invented to make people invent new dishes. Invented to prove that everybody can cook.

Great graphic design by Katya Bonnenfant.
Originally published in Yearbook Nr. 8 of Schloss Solitude, 2006, where several workshops were held. Thank you to the kitchen staff of Solitude who let us use their kitchen!


These are the rules, try it with your friends and report back, please!

1. The cooking workshop is taking place once a week.
2. Each week, up to six cooks enrol for the workshop.
No previous knowledge is required.
3. The cooks meet some days in advance to set up a list of ingredients.
4. Each cook can add as many items to the list of ingredients as he or
she likes.
5. The list of ingredients is assembled without knowledge of the
final menu and no consideration of good fit of the ingredients.
6. At the day the workshop is held, one of the cooks buys all the
ingredients on the list.
7. Up to six guests enrol for the dinner.
8. At 6 pm the cooks meet.
9. Each cook invents a menu which comprises all the ingredients.
10. Each cook presents his menu to the other cooks.
11. All the cooks together compose a new menu from the individual
12. No recipes are used.
13. The final menu is cooked by all the cooks together.
14. Dinner is served at 8.30pm.

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A text in German on the problem of cooking for scientists (includes some recipes that scientists might love),
also deals with the problem of mothers cooking. A report on our work as cooks for various workshops and symposia at Collegium zerodarkthirty-movie.com Helveticum, trying to make sense of our role conflicts as lowly cooks and at the same time scientific staff at a prestigious scientific institution.

Written together with Florian Keller,

originally appeared in: Anja Eichelberg / Helga Nowotny (Hrsg.), Jahrbuch 2002 des Collegium Helveticum der ETH Zürich, Zürich: vdf, S. 337-347

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A Universal History of the World with regard to Cooking, Eating etc.
A series of short texts in German  that tell the story of the universe, life Moneygram online itself, humans, the social, culture, art, the individual
in short: everything you always wanted to know from the viewpoint of food and cooking.
Texts were selected and edited together with Florian Keller and Luc Georgi,

originally appeared in: Matthias Michel (Hrsg.), Fakt und Fiktion 0.7. Narrativität und Wissenschaft, Zürich: Chronos.

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