Reflection based on Fred Dervin’s paper Discourses of Othering (2014) in International Encyclopedia of Language and Social Interaction (WILEY-BLACKWELL).
“It’s easier to split an atom than a prejudice” – Albert Einstein
Because of students’ increasing intercultural contact in this globalised world, Fred Dervin is leading within the postmodern need to question and re-evaluate everything, and examines the concepts of culture, identity and collectivity and how to deal with these subjects in education. Out current education which is full of examples of historical labels of othering. E.g. Colonisations, indigenous people in Australia, Human zoos, South Africa’s Apartheid, etc. Where the othering identity markers include nationality, race, language, religion, gender, ethnicity, etc. Naturally, our educational institutions are only a representation of the current society, norms, and values thereof, and in there, exists a large variation of othering, both national and cultural:
- Neo-racism (for which culture serves as a proxy for race)
- Culturalism (culture as an explanation for all)
- Ethnocentrism sexism
- Occidentalism (Dervin & Gao, 2012)
The other is been at the core of Human and Social Sciences (Interdisciplinary concept par excellence; psychology, sociology, philosophy – especially ontology, anthropology, linguistics, theology, archeology, history and gender studies).
Othering (sometimes written as otherising) is an interdisciplinary notion/topic that refers, amongst other things, to differentiating discourses that lead to a moral and political judgment of superiority and inferiority between ‘us’ and ‘them, and within groups. Critical approaches to mothering examine its construction in social interaction and take into account both power relations and the intersectionality of different identity markers. Researchers increasingly pay attention to their own contribution to othering. Othering can lead to racism, sexism and/or bigotry, thus has to be discussed, banished and fought against in educational discourses. Othering discourses that have led to acts such as hatred, killing, terrorism, slavery, genocides, etc., but in daily life show themselves as prejudice, power imbalance, discrimination and patronising attitudes.
Social representation (concept by psychologist Moscovici, 1961) is a system of values, ideas and practices that are shared by people and that enable them to grasp their world but also to interact with others — which is exactly what bothering allows in social interactions.
Thus being aware of the discourses of othering is important and relevant when teaching today’s students any subject, not just history.
“I emphasize in it [my Orientalism] accortdingly that neither the term Orient nor the concept of the West has any ontological stability; each is made up of human effort, partly affirmation, partly identification of the Other.”