Social dynamics are omnipresent in our everyday lives. Again and again, however, new kinds of phenomena occur in our social lives that arise due to different circumstances. So-called „othering“ is one such case, in which those affected are unceremoniously made strangers. This is to enable a more precise demarcation to a person or group. Through this deliberately enforced demarcation, the non-indigenous person or group is to be categorized as different or alien and thus indirectly devalued.
The comparatively new phenomenon of „othering“ is now encountered in many places in everyday life. But „othering“ has also been used in science for centuries – often even completely unintentionally. Now that this stigmatization has been discovered by leading behavioral scientists, it can be dealt with more consciously. For those who are not yet familiar with „othering“ and would like to learn more about it, the following article will provide some helpful information.
Definition of „Othering“
The term „othering“ comes from the English language and is an idiom or neologism. It is closely related to the adjective „other“ and the noun „otherness“. Thus, „othering“ could be translated as „making different“ or „making foreign“.
What is meant by this is an arbitrary demarcation between individual persons, groups of persons or cultures in order to categorize them as different. In this way, the other person, group or culture deviates from the self-induced norm and is thus excluded. This exclusion can be perceived as painful as well as insulting or disrespectful by those affected.
Othering“ thus represents an anomaly in everyday psychology that has only recently been discovered by behavioral psychology, which must be combated and which could permanently change the views and ways of speaking in modern societies.
Word origin and meaning of the term „othering“
The concept behind „othering“ was developed by various philosophers. Among them, for example, Hegel and Simone de Beauvoir. Another significant writer who dealt with this issue was the U.S. theorist Edward Said. Moreover, the German anthropologist named Johannes Fabian is still considered as a co-founder of the „othering“ theory. Despite the fact that „othering“ was already discussed theoretically hundreds of years ago, it only experienced a renaissance a few years ago and is only now coming back into the focus of behavioral researchers and ethicists.
„Othering“ means nothing more than being aware that the exclusion (even if only indirect) of individuals, groups, or cultures from a larger context or self-chosen norm can cause harm.
Which individuals are affected by „othering“?
„Othering“ has affected individuals, groups, or entire cultures throughout history. For example, the word „Orient“ can be mentioned in the context of „Othering.“ This is because it encompasses a range of countries, people, and cultures that are distinct from the „Occident“ (i.e., today’s „West“). Nationalities, racial affiliations, or genders also fall equally under „othering“ because these put people into categories. Pretty much everyone has been affected by „othering“ at some point in their lives – either as a victim or as a perpetrator.
In which areas is „othering“ used?
We encounter „othering“ in almost all of our daily lives. The following subsections, however, are intended to show the most common situations in which we encounter „Othering“ and to explain them in more depth:
- in word examples
- on social media
- in social everyday life
Prominent examples of „othering“ include the following:
- a person’s origin
- the gender of a person
- the age of a person
- the socio-economic background of a person
- the affiliation of a person to certain cultural groups
- the skills of a person
- the skin color of a person
When the above things are asked, the impression of „othering“ is often created indirectly. It can also be a case of „othering“ when some things are described as the norm, but different things are excluded from it.
Social media offers a gigantic stage for „othering“ or indirectly excludes users. This happens when social media only shows exceptional beauty, wealth or success and pushes this through likes. This can lead to the actual normality being perceived as boring or not worth striving for. For the user, this creates the impression that he or she no longer „belongs“ and therefore feels like a victim of „othering“.
Social everyday life
We also often encounter „othering“ in everyday social life. Whether in the news, in everyday conversations, or at school as well as university, in many places the norm is established, which can indirectly exclude individuals, groups, or entire cultures. In occidental cultures, for example, the absence of mosques can be characterized as „othering,“ even though in many places this is not done arbitrarily.
Social classification of „othering“
„Othering“ is practiced by almost all age groups and personalities – often quite unconsciously. Any behavior and thought patterns are seldom questioned in everyday life, which is why correspondingly many people are subject to „Othering“. Among young people, however, „othering“ is still comparatively less pronounced, as they are often more open and sensitive to differences, or do not insist so strongly on their own views. With age, however, the ability to perceive unintentional „othering“ decreases. The individual capacity for tolerance also decreases.
Criticisms of the topic of „othering“
Although „Othering“ is still at the beginning of behavioral research, there are already a number of critics who oppose it negatively. Criticism of „Othering“ is often that it is pure theory, which further complicates the already complex social dynamics of everyday life. Individuals, groups, or cultures that conform specifically to the norm or deviate little from it are often also not sensitive enough to recognize „othering“ as such. It is therefore condemned by many people as a meaningless theory that seems to have no real use.
Conclusion on the topic of „Othering“ as well as similar terminology
The bottom line is that „othering“ represents a social phenomenon that involuntarily or arbitrarily demarcates or classifies people, groups, or entire cultures as different. It affects social dynamics in ways that are harmful because they are painful and hurtful. Although „othering“ is considered meaningless by critics, it sometimes has serious diversity implications.
For example, the terms „marginalization“ and „exclusion“ can be associated with the term „othering.“ In the case of „marginalization“, social exclusion also occurs; in the case of „exclusion“, there is even deliberate disadvantage and harm to different social groups.