Otherness is simply a distinction between classes and a set of human interests. It manifests when there is a need to achieve specific influence and relevance among groups.

Otherness and its Manifestations

Otherness is a complex concept due to its psychological and political influences. Lister (2004) defines it as a process of differentiation and demarcation, by which the line is drawn between ‟us” and ‟them” – between the more and the less powerful – and through which social distance is established and maintained. In a similar light, otherness is defined as the existence of a group of identifiable interests with the capacity to dominate as superior or inferior (Schwalbe, 2000). The “others” are merely defined based on how they are unique from the dominant in-group- This gives rise to  a situation in which the identities of others are perceived in a manner that can be “a motive for potential discrimination” (Staszak, 2008). At the same time, the difference constructed through othering is problematized, in the sense that the othered group is also in the process defined as ‟morally and intellectually inferior” (Schwalbe et al., 2000: 423). This opinion suggests distinction in class, culture, and perspectives as it involves human structures. It can be argued to be a psychological phenomenon that informs the individual mind on the differences that question its existence and approaches toward survival. According to Hall (1987), otherness refers to a process by which cultural differences dominate a culturally complex world, often to affirm the conflicting interests of some superior individuals over others. It is deeply connected to the similarity-attraction phenomenon or politics that characterize in-group relationships (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). In this context, there is a preferable cultural identity of those who are “the same” and who represents the “We,” and those who are ‘different’ and represent the often undesirable (cultural) “other” in human lived spaces.

Otherness takes place because of the global rise in certain ideologies and practices such as nationalism, populism, and xenophobia which disadvantage, marginalize or exclude specific individuals and groups and which also manifest on the level of management, politics and organizations and even in literature (Zanoni et al., 2010). Otherness is a concept that critical theorists are particularly committed to opposing binary oppositions where one side is seen as privileged over or defining itself against an Other (often capitalized), for example, male/female, Occident/Orient, centre/margin. Through such binary oppositions,  Bhabha as a postcolonial critic, explains that the ‘Other’ loses its power to signify, negate, initiate its historic desire, and establish its own institutional and oppositional discourse (1994). Said’s (2003) concept of the “Other” centres on a prejudiced image of the Orient that has been created and perpetuated through Western discourse. Brubaker (2013) also points out that the process of othering might at least partially be dialogical. Which entails that individuals that are perceived as ‘others’ based on characteristics might sometimes embrace and propagate these characteristics — for instance, as a display of dissent or because it provides a sense of belonging — and might thereby enhance their otherness and become more inward-looking.

Often from the lens of deconstruction, critical theorists seek instead to unveil and critique the effort to establish a “sovereign Subject” over and against a constitutive Other. The ‘others’ are reduced to stereotypical characters and are ultimately dehumanized (Riggins, 1997). Such processes imply reduction and essentialization because those who are othered are reduced to a few negative characteristics. Otherness has stirred the colonial and neo-colonial relationship at conflict over supremacy between the former colonizer and the colonized. In addition, the theory of identity formation inherent in the concept of othering assumes that subordinate people are offered, and at the same time relegated to, subject positions as others in discourse. In these processes, the centre can describe, and the other is constructed as inferior.


Bhabha, H. (1994). The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.

Brubaker, R. (2013). Categories of analysis and categories of practice: a note on the study of Muslims in European countries of immigration. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36(1), 1–8.

Hall, S. (1987). The spectacle of the ‘Other.’ In: Weltherell, M., Tylow, S., & Yates, S. J. (eds) Discourse Theory and Practice. London: Sage.

Lister, R. (2004). Poverty. Cambridge: Polity Press

Riggins, S. H. (1997). The Rhetoric of Othering. In S. H. Riggins (Ed.), The Language and Politics of Exclusion – Others in Discourse. Thousand Oaks: Sage

Said, E. W. (2003). Orientalism. London: Penguin.

Schwalbe, M. (2000). The Elements of Inequality. Contemporary Sociology, (29) 6, 775-781.

Schwalbe, M., Godwin, S., Holden, D., Schrock, D., Thompson, S., & Wolkomir, M. (2000). Generic Processes in Reproduction of Inequality: An interactionist Analysis. Social Forces, 79 (2): 419-452.

Staszak, J. (2008). Other/otherness. International Encyclopedia of Human Geography.

Tajfel, H., &Turner, J. C. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behaviour. In: Worchel, S., & Austin, W. G (eds) Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, pp. 7-24.

Zanoni, P., Janssens, M., & Benschop Y. (2010). Guest editorial: unpacking diversity, grasping inequality: rethinking difference through critical perspectives. Organization 17(1): 9-29.