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In phenomenology, the terms the Other and the Constitutive Other each identify a cumulative, constituting factor in the self-image of a person - the acknowledgement of being real. As such, the Other is dissimilar to and the opposite of the Self, of Us, and of the Same.[1] Otherness, the characteristics of the Other, is the state of being different from and alien to the social identity of a person and to the identity of the Self.[2]

In relation to the Self, the Constitutive Other is the relation between the essential nature (person) and the outward manifestation (personality) of a human being. In a binary perspective of the essential and of the superficial characteristics of personal identity, each personal characteristic is the inverse of an opposite characteristic. The difference is inner-difference, within the Self.[3][4]

In the discourse of philosophy, the term "Otherness" refers to and identifies the characteristics of the Who and What of the Other. These characteristics are distinct and separate from the Symbolic order of things, from the Real (the authentic and unchangeable), from the æsthetic (art, beauty, taste), from political philosophy, from social norms and social identity, and from the Self.

Therefore, the condition of "Otherness" is a person’s non-conformity to and with the social norms of society and to the condition of disenfranchisement (political exclusion), either by the activities of the State or by the activities of the social institutions (e.g. the professions), which are respectively invested with political and social Power. Therefore, in the condition of "Otherness", the person is alienated from the center of society and is placed at the societal margin for being the Other.[5]

When the term "the Other" is applied as the noun Othering, it is a usage that distinguishes and identifies (labels) someone as belonging to a category, defined as "Other". In practice, Othering excludes those persons who do not fit the norm of the social group, which is a version of the Self. Likewise, in the field of Human geography, the verbal-action term to Other refers to and identifies the action of placing someone outside the center of the social group, at the societal margins, where the social norms do not apply for the Other person.[6]


Conceptually, the Self requires the existence of the Other, as the counterpart entity required for defining the Self; in the late 18th century, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) introduced the concept of the Other as a constituent part of self-consciousness (preoccupation with the Self), which complements the self-awareness (capacity for introspection) propositions of Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814).

Edmund Husserl (1859–1938) applied the concept of the Other as a basis for intersubjectivity, the psychological relations among people. In Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (1943), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980) applied the dialectic of intersubjectivity to describe how the world is altered upon the appearance of an Other person, of how the world then appears oriented to the Other person, and not to the Self; however, the appearance of the Other occurs as a phenomenon in the life of the person, and not as a radical threat to the existence of the Self. In The Second Sex (1949), Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986) applied Otherness to indicate that the Master–Slave dialectic (of G.W.F. Hegel) as analogous to the Man–Woman relationship in the course of societal treatment and mistreatment of women throughout history.

The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901–1981) and the philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas (1906–1995) were the intellectuals instrumental to coining the contemporary usages and applications of the Other, as the radical counterpart of the Self; Lacan associated the Other with the symbolic order and language; and, in The Infinite Other, Lévinas associated the Other with the supernatural deity of scripture and tradition, thus, ethically, the Other is superior and prior to the Self. Moreover, the concept of the face-to-face encounter (wherein a person is responsible to the Other person) later was re-written to assume the propositions of Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) about the impossibility of the Other being a metaphysical pure-presence, that the Other could be an entity of pure alterity (Otherness) from which arise the matters of language and of the representation of an other human being. The conceptual re-writing of the nature of the Other was partly accomplished with Lévinas’s analysis of the distinction between “the saying and the said”, whilst retaining the priority of ethics over metaphysics.

Lévinas describes the Other in terms of “insomnia and wakefulness”; an ecstasy (an exteriority) towards the Other that forever remains beyond any attempt at fully capturing the Other, whose Otherness is infinite; even in the murder of an Other, his or her Otherness remains uncontrolled and not negated. The infinity of the Other allowed Lévinas to derive other aspects of philosophy and science as secondary to that ethic; thus Lévinas said:

The others that obsess me in the Other do not affect me as examples of the same genus united with my neighbor, by resemblance or common nature, individuations of the human race, or chips off the old block . . . The others concern me from the first. Here, fraternity precedes the commonness of a genus. My relationship with the Other as neighbor gives meaning to my relations with all the others.

— Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence (1974), p. 159.[7]

Moreover, the term the Other also identifies and refers to the unconscious mind, silence, insanity, and language (to what is referred and to what is unsaid). There might also arise a tendency towards relativism if the Other, as pure alterity, leads to a notion that ignores the commonality of truth; likewise, problems might arise because of non-ethical uses of the terms the Other, Otherness, and Othering, which reinforce ontological divisions of denotation and connotation.

In The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq (2004), the academic Derek Gregory said that the responses of U.S. President George W. Bush (2001–2009) to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 reinforced philosophic divisions of connotation and denotation that perpetuated the negative representation of the non–Western Other, when he rhetorically asked the U.S. populace Why do they hate us? as political prelude to the War on Terror.[8] President Bush’s rhetorical question led the U.S. populace to make an artificial, Us-and-Them division in the relations between the U.S. and the countries and cultures of the Middle East, which artifice is a basic factor of the perpetual war on terrorism, and is a step away from eradicating the imaginary representations of the Self and the Other created with the Orientalist geographies produced by the fields of Oriental Studies; about which the cultural critic Edward Saïd said that:

To build a conceptual framework around a notion of Us-versus-Them is, in effect, to pretend that the principal consideration is epistemological and natural — our civilization is known and accepted, theirs is different and strange — whereas, in fact, the framework separating us from them is belligerent, constructed, and situational.

— The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq (2004), p. 24.[9]


Before the contemporary world system in which the politics and the economy of the nation-state became interdependent, there existed the system of world empires. In imperialist world system, the political and economic affairs of empires were fragmented, and empires “provided for most of their own needs . . . [disseminating] their influence solely through conquest [empire] or the threat of conquest [hegemony].”[10] Given that empire is “the creation and maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural, and territorial relationship, usually between states, and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination.”[11]

Therefore, maintaining unequal imperial relations requires subordination of the Other, the native peoples of the colonised land, in order to facilitate the exploitation of the labour of the natives, of their lands, and of the natural resources of their country. To realise those ends, the process of Othering culturally justifies the domination and subordination of a people, by placing them, as the Other, at the periphery of the geopolitical enterprise that is imperialism. The creation of the Other is realised by highlighting “weakness” (social, political, cultural, economic) against the strength of imperialist power; thus, by way of such “moral responsibility”, the Self is authorised a civilising mission to educate, convert, and culturally assimilate the Other, as described in Orientalism (1978), by the cultural critic Edward Saïd.


In the production of knowledge, intellectuals, such as Michel Foucault and the Frankfurt School, and postmodern philosophy, have said that the process of Othering has everything to do with imaginary representations and power, acting through knowledge “of the Other” to achieve a political agenda of domination.[12] Quoting “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-moral Sense” (1873), by Friedrich Nietzsche, Edward Saïd addressed the matter of What is the Truth of language? but:[13]

. . . a mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms — in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which, after long use, seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are.

— Orientalism (1978) p. 202.[14]
Representations of the Other

Knowledge of representations (metaphoric, metonymic, anthropomorphic) illuminates the cultural attitude in the historiographies of the foreign cultures of the Other, all created by the dominant culture, by way of the analytical discourses (academic, geopolitical, military, etc.) that surround the histories (written and oral) that explain the East to the West. The foreign cultures that a supposedly superior ethnic-group deems important to study, and the aspects of the studied culture, either ignored or considered valuable knowledge, relies upon the judgement of the ethnic group in power. In the case of historiographies of the Middle East, and in the Oriental-studies field, before the late-nineteenth century, Western European empires studied what Orientalists said was the high culture of the Middle East — the literature, language, and philology of the cultures comprised by the term The Orient.

Occidentalism of the Other

Occidentalism, the investigation programme and academic curriculum of and about The West — geographic Europe as a culturally homogenous place — did not exist as a counterpart field of academic study in the Eastern world.[15] The Orientalist practices of distortion in the writing of history have continued to the postmodern era, especially in the writing of news; of intra-national Othering by Third-World political parties who expediently create “facts”, such as threat-reports about non-existent threats (political, popular, military) that are meant to aggravate the character faults of the opponent political parties, usually composed of people of the Other ethnic groups of the country.[16]

The process of Othering a person or a social group, by means of an ideal ethnocentricity — the belief that one’s ethnic group is superior to all others, and the cultural tendency to evaluate and assign meaning to Other ethnicities (ethnic, cultural, religious), which are negatively measured against the ideal standard of the Self — is realised through mundane investigational processes, such as cartography.[17] Historically, the drawing of maps has emphasised, and thus bolstered, specific lands and the associated national identities, the natural resources and cultures of the native inhabitants. In early cartography, the distortion (proportionate, proximate, commercial) of actual places and true distances centred the cartographer’s homeland in the mapamundi of the Western world. British cartographers centred Britain in their maps, and drew the islands proportionally larger than the real geography of the U.K. might allow. In contemporary cartography, polar-perspective maps of the Northern Hemisphere, drawn by American cartographers, distort real geographic spatial relations (distance, size, mass) of and between the U.S. and Russia, to emphasise American superiority (military, cultural, geopolitical) and the inferiority of the Russian Other.[18]

Perspectives and applications of the Other

In Key Concepts in Political Geography (2009), Alison Mountz proposed concrete definitions of the Other as a philosophic concept and term; when used as a noun, the Other identifies and refers to a person and to a group of persons; when used as a verb, the Other identifies and refers to a category and a label for persons and things. Post-colonial scholarship demonstrated that, in pursuit of empire, “the colonizing powers narrated an 'Other' whom they set out to save, dominate, control, civilize and or extract resources through colonization".[19] The imperialism facilitated by Orientalism proposed that the colonised spaces — foreign countries in the Western map of the world — needed to be saved by colonial powers, therefore imperialism was for the material, spiritual, and cultural benefit of the foreign peoples colonised by the West.

Counter to the Post-colonial perspective of the Other as part of a dominator–dominated binary relationship, Post-modern philosophy positively perceives the Other and Otherness as phenomenological and ontological progress for Man and society. Public knowledge of the social identity of peoples classified as “Outsiders” is de facto acknowledgement of their being real, and so are part of the body politic, especially in the cities. As such, “the post-modern city is a geographical celebration of difference that moves sites once conceived of as ‘marginal’ to the [social] centre of discussion and analysis” of the human relations between the Outsiders and the Establishment.[19]

Sex and gender

Simone de Beauvoir applied the concept of The Other to the man–woman relation, to analyse the dominator–dominated relation that historically characterised the relations between the sexes.

Simone de Beauvoir applied G.F.W. Hegel’s conception of the Other (as a constituent part of self-consciousness), to describe a male-dominated culture that treats Woman as the Other in relation to Man. In the cultural context of the Man–Woman binary relation, the Other is a minority, the least-favoured social group, usually of women, “for a man represents both the positive and the neutral, as indicated by the common use of Man to designate human beings in general; whereas Woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity” from the first sex, Man.[20]

In 1957, Betty Friedan substantiated the ordinate–subordinate nature of the Man–Woman relation when the majority of women she interviewed, at a university-class reunion, referred to and identified themselves with their roles in the private sphere of life (wife, mother), rather than identifying with their own achievements in public life (career). Unawares, the women had automatically identified themselves as the Other; although the Other is influenced by the society’s social constructs (class, sex, gendre), society does possess the social and political power to change the relation of the Self and the Other. (see: The Feminine Mystique, 1963) [21]

Moreover, in effort to dismantle the conception of the Other as part of a binary relation, Cheshire Calhoun proposed the deconstruction of the word Woman from a subordinate association within a relation, and conceptually reconstruct the Other by showing that the reality of Woman need not be rationalised by male dominance, which deconstruction minimalises the hierarchical subordination implied by the word Woman.[22]

In Feminism is Humanism. So Why the Debate?, Sarojini Sahoo indicated that women are equal to men, yet have an identity independent of men’s definition of “woman”.

In Feminism is Humanisn. So Why the Deabate?, Sarojini Sahoo, agrees with De Beauvoir’s proposition that women can only free themselves by “thinking, taking action, working, creating, on the same terms as men; instead of seeking to disparage them, she declares herself their equal.” Yet, disagrees with De Beauvoir in that, although women hold the same human-being status as men, women have their own identity and are different from men. In feminist definition, Women are the Other (but not the Hegelian Other) and are not defined by the active and subjective demands of Man. Women are the Other who unknowingly accepts subjugation as part of subjectivity.[23] That whilst the woman-identity is constitutionally different from the man-identity, men and women do share basic equality as human beings. Hence, the harmful, asymmetric Othering of sex and gendre arises accidentally and “passively” from natural and unavoidable intersubjectivity.[24]

Othering is the action of excluding a person or a group of people perceived as different from the norm (of the Self). Moreover, the Other can be understood from the perspective of gendre (a social construct) and from the perspective of sex (a biological reality). In a society where heterosexuality is the central norm, the term the Other refers to and identifies women who love women and men who love men, who were and are deemed ‘deviant’ because of their attraction to persons of the same sex.[19] The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community often is reduced by way of Othering into a social group identified by the negative connotations inherent to being at the sexual margins of society. To neutralise such Othering, communities are queering the city, by using the spatial and temporal layout of the city to allow the LGBT community free expression of social identity in a time and place where they are visible in and to society, such as a gay-pride parade, with which the sexual Other establish their reality as part of the body politic of the city.[25]


Regarding the binary relation that exists between the Self and the Other,

There are a you and an I, and there is no mine and yours! For without a you and an I, there is no love, and with mine and yours there is no love but “mine” and “yours” are, of course, formed from a “you” and an “I”, and, as a consequence, seem obliged to be present wherever there are a you and an I. This is, indeed, the case everywhere, but not in love, which is a revolution from the ground up. The more profound the revolution, the more completely the distinction mine and yours disappears, and the more perfect is the love.

— Works of Love (1847)[26]

See also

Sexual difference


  1. “the Other”, The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, Third Edition, (1999) p. 620.
  2. Miller, J (2008). "Otherness". The SAGE encyclopedia of qualitative research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. pp. 588–591. doi:10.4135/9781412963909.n304. Retrieved 27 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Hegel, G.W.F.; Miller, A.V. (1977). Hoffmeister, J. (ed.). Force and the Understanding: Appearance and the Supersensible World: Phenomenology of Spirit (5 ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 98–9. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> “The relation of essential nature to outward manifestation in pure change . . . to infinity . . . as inner difference . . . [is within] its own Self”
  4. Findlay, J.N.; Hegel, G.W.F.; Miller, A.V. (1977). Hoffmeister, J. (ed.). Analysis of the Text: Phenomenology of Spirit (5 ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 517–18. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. “Otherness”, The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, Third Edition, (1999) p. 620.
  6. Mountz, Allison. "The Other". Key Concepts in Human Geography: 328. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Lévinas, Emmanuel. Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, p.159
  8. The Colonial Present' Derek Gregory, p. 21.
  9. Gregory, Derek. The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq (2004), p. 24.
  10. Gelvin, James L. The Modern Middle East: A History, 2nd ed. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. pp. 39-40.
  11. Johnston, R.J., et al., The Dictionary of Human Geography, 4th Edition Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2000. p. 375.
  12. Said, Edward W. Orientalism 25th Anniversary Edition. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. xviii. Print.
  13. Nietzsche, Friedrich. "On Truth and Lie in an Extra-moral Sense", The Portable Nietzsche, Walter Kaufmann, Editor. New York:Viking Press, 1954. pp. 46-47.
  14. Said, Edward W. Orientalism, 25th Anniversary Edition. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. p. 202.
  15. Humphreys, Steven R. "The Historiography of the Modern Middle East: Transforming a Field of Study", Middle East Historiographies: Narrating the Twentieth Century, Israel Gershoni, Amy Singer, Y. Hakam Erdem, Eds. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006. pp. 19-21.
  16. Sehgal, Meera. "Manufacturing a Feminized Siege Mentality." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 36.2 (2007): 173. Print.
  17. Fellmann, Jerome D., et al. Human Geography: Landscapes of Human Activities, 10th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. p. 179.
  18. Fellmann, Jerome D., et al. Human Geography: Landscapes of Human Activities. 10th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 10.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Gallagher, Carolyn, Dahlman, Carl T, Gilmartin, Mary, Mountz, Alison, Shirlow, Peter. Key Concepts in Political Geography. SAGE Publications Ltd, 2009. Print.
  20. McCann, p. 33.
  21. Haslanger
  22. McCann, 339
  23. "Feminism is Humanism. So Why the Debate?"
  24. Jemmer, Patrick: The O(the)r (O)the(r), Engage Newcastle Volume 1 (ISSN: 2045-0567; ISBN 978-1-907926-00-6) August 2010, Newcastle UK: NewPhilSoc Publishing, p. 7; see at "http://books.google.co.in/books?hl=en&lr=&id=YlN_kz8th4cC&oi=fnd&pg=PA5&dq=Sarojini+Sahoo&ots=EFtjSxyA3q&sig=qa7R"
  25. Mountz, Allison. "The Other". Key Concepts in Human Geography: 335. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Hong p. 266.


  • Thomas, Calvin, ed. (2000). "Introduction: Identification, Appropriation, Proliferation", Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-06813-0.
  • Cahoone, Lawrence (1996). From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell.
  • Colwill, Elizabeth. (2005). Reader—Wmnst 590: Feminist Thought. KB Books.
  • Haslanger, Sally. Feminism and Metaphysics: Unmasking Hidden Ontologies. [1]. 28 November 2005.
  • McCann, Carole. Kim, Seung-Kyung. (2003). Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. Routledge. New York, NY.
  • Rimbaud, Arthur (1966). "Letter to Georges Izambard", Complete Works and Selected Letters. Trans. Wallace Fowlie. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich (1974). The Gay Science. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage.
  • Saussure, Ferdinand de (1986). Course in General Linguistics. Eds. Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye. Trans. Roy Harris. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court.
  • Lacan, Jacques (1977). Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton.
  • Althusser, Louis (1973). Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Trans. Ben Brewster. New York: Monthly Review Press.
  • Warner, Michael (1990). "Homo-Narcissism; or, Heterosexuality", Engendering Men, p. 191. Eds. Boone and Cadden, London UK: Routledge.
  • Tuttle, Howard (1996). The Crowd is Untruth, Peter Lang Publishing, ISBN 0-8204-2866-3

Further reading

  • Levinas, Emmanuel (1974). Autrement qu'être ou au-delà de l'essence. (Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence).
  • Levinas, Emmanuel (1972). Humanism de l'autre homme. Fata Morgana.
  • Lacan, Jacques (1966). Ecrits. London: Tavistock, 1977.
  • Lacan, Jacques (1964). The Four Fondamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis. London: Hogarth Press, 1977.
  • Foucault, Michel (1990). The History of Sexuality vol. 1: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage.
  • Derrida, Jacques (1973). Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs. Trans. David B. Allison. Evanston: Ill.: Northwestern University Press.
  • Kristeva, Julia (1982). Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Butler, Judith (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.
  • Butler, Judith (1993). Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex". New York: Routledge.
  • Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2006), "'Etymythological Othering' and the Power of 'Lexical Engineering' in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. A Socio-Philo(sopho)logical Perspective", Explorations in the Sociology of Language and Religion, edited by Tope Omoniyi and Joshua A. Fishman, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 237–258.

External links