Othering, an analysis

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Othering is the construction and identification of the self or in-group and the other or out-group in mutual, unequal opposition by attributing relative inferiority and/or radical alienness to the other/out-group. The notion of othering spread from feminist theory and post-colonial studies to other areas of the humanities and social sciences, but is originally rooted in Hegel’s dialectic of identification and distantiation in the encounter of the self with some other in his “Master-Slave dialectic”. In this paper, after reviewing the philosophical and psychological background of othering, I distinguish two kinds of othering, “crude” and “sophisticated”, that differ in the logical form of their underlying arguments. The essential difference is that the former is merely self-other distantiating, while the latter – as in Hegel’s dialectic – partially depends on self-other identification. While crude othering is closer to the paradigmatic notion of othering, sophisticated othering is closer to Hegel’s, but so is quasi-othering, which is nearly identical in form to sophisticated othering, but which misses the defining feature of othering – attributing relative inferiority and/or radical alienness. Because Hegel’s dialectic applies to any encounter of an interpreting self with some other, sophisticated or quasi-othering is at least potentially a very common occurrence in the interpretation of others, especially of those who do not belong to the in-group. However, although othering is usually undesirable, the Hegelian varieties can provide a “mirror”, which can be used as a tool to improve understanding of both the other and the interpreting self, and the malignant aspects of othering can be avoided through charity.
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