Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Who is the Other?

I just realised now that the Other as a concept can be prominalised as either "you" or "them." This differential pronominalisation has massive consequences for the ethical relationship between the Self and Other.

If the relationship is "you and me/us," then there is a connection, a dialogue, arguably an ethical relationship. This is a relationship between two subjectivities.

By contrast, if the relationship is "them and me/us," this is an objectifying relationship, one that does not entail dialogue, relationship or connection.

I read the following passage in an article I was reading for my thesis (Riggins, 'The rhetoric of Othering'): "Self and external Other may be understood as unique individuals (I and You) or as collectives that are thought to share similar characteristics (We and They)." I think Riggins here is trying to contrast the idea of individuals vs collectives (singular vs plural), but in shifting from the singular to the plural, he also changed person - from second to third. This slippage seems remarkable to me, but is perhaps common.

I wonder if this has a relationship with how people perceive Others - like you know how prejudiced people sometimes individualise the specific Others that they know, in contrast to the amorphous Them? So for example, you get sentiments like "I don't like Asians, I know Michael is Asian, but he's different to the rest of them" or "Homosexuals are such and such, but Jane is OK."

I've been thinking for a while now that part of the process of de-Othering is establishing relationships of dialogue, changing "us/them" relationships into "us/you."

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