Comparative inquiry has a long history in the scientific, sociological, and linguistic traditions that embody much of the work being done in English studies, including technical, professional, and intercultural communication. Generally speaking, comparative methods are often used to explain variation in human behavior, often with the assumption that there is a common source from which this variation springs, whether it be historical change, cognitive structures like universal grammar, social entities, or just “human nature.” As we move into what Wendy Hesford (2006) called the “global turn” in English studies, the phenomena of globalization and shifting classroom, cultural, and communicative ecologies has called scholars to question the very premises from which we cast our comparative inquiries. In the past, comparative inquiry has been intricately tied to notions of civilization that several scholars trace back to Greek and Roman efforts to categorize diverse sets of peoples that varied from their own cultures (Bock, 1966; Denzin & Lincoln, 2007; Vidich & Lyman, 2001), thus attaching colonialist and imperialist ways of knowing to the act of comparison — a connection thoroughly critiqued throughout English studies (Chatterjee, 1993; Lowe, 1991; Pennycook, 1998; Said, 1978). Such historical ties to the comparative act should not invalidate these methodologies; rather, these sedimentations (or habits of methodological representation) should call for the rearticulation of comparative inquiry. Too often, variations in cultures, human behavior, rhetoric, or language use are seen as obstacles to developing national and cultural relationships, or problems to be solved, rather than generative moments of interaction, where new knowledge is being formed.

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