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For other uses, see Other (disambiguation).

The "Other" (or "constitutive Other") is a key concept in Continental philosophy and in the social sciences; as such, the Other opposes the Same. The terms the Other and Otherness refer to who is and what is alien and divergent from the norm, from identity, and from the self. The Constitutive Other usually denotes a different, incomprehensible Self that is external to the one's own Self; thus, the word Other usually is capitalized, because, conceptually, the Other is a mystification reduced to a fetish, by a hegemonic subject.[1]


The concept that the Self requires the existence of the Other, as the counterpart who defines the Self; the philosophers explain:

Hegel was among the first to introduce the idea of the other as constituent in self-consciousness. For a direct antecedent, see Fichte.

Husserl used the idea as a basis for intersubjectivity. Sartre also made use of such a dialectic in Being and Nothingness, when describing how the world is altered at the appearance of another person, how the world now appears to orient itself around this other person. At the level Sartre presented it, however, it was without any life-threatening need for resolution, but as a feeling or phenomenon and not as a radical threat. Beauvoir made use of otherness — in similar fashion to Sartre (though it is likely he took the idea from her[citation needed]) — in The Second Sex. In fact, Beauvoir refers to Hegel's master-slave dialectic as analogous, in many respects, to the relationship of man and woman.

The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and the Lithuanian-French philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas were instrumental in coining contemporary usage of "the Other," as radically other. Lacan associated the Other with the symbolic order and language. Levinas connected it with the scriptural and traditional God, in The Infinite Other.

Ethically, for Levinas, the "Other" is superior or prior to the self; the mere presence of the Other makes demands before one can respond by helping them or ignoring them.[citation needed] This idea and that of the face-to-face encounter were re-written later, taking on Derrida's points made about the impossibility of a pure presence of the Other (the Other could be other than this pure alterity first encountered), and so issues of language and representation arose. This "re-write" was accomplished in part with Levinas' analysis of the distinction between "the saying and the said" but still maintaining a priority of ethics over metaphysics.

Levinas talks of the Other in terms of 'insomnia' and 'wakefulness'. It is an ecstasy, or exteriority toward the Other that forever remains beyond any attempt at full capture, this otherness is interminable (or infinite); even in murdering another, the otherness remains, it has not been negated or controlled. This "infiniteness" of the Other will allow Levinas to derive other aspects of philosophy and science as secondary to this ethic. Levinas writes:

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.[2]

The "Other", as a general term in philosophy, can also be used to mean the unconscious, silence, insanity, the other of language (i.e., what it refers to and what is unsaid), etc.

There may also arise a tendency towards relativism if the Other, as pure alterity, leads to a notion that ignores the commonality of truth. Likewise, issues may arise around non-ethical uses of the term, and related terms, that reinforce divisions.


Before the modern world system in which the politics and economy of nation-states are relatively interdependent, there existed what is classified as the "system of world empires" up until the 1500s. In this world system, political and economic affairs of different empires were fragmented and empires "provided for most of their own needs... [spreading] their influence solely through conquest or the threat of conquest..."[3] The Dictionary of Human Geography defines imperialism as "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."[4] The maintenance of this unequal relationship has been described as depending on the subordination of an "other" group or peoples. Imperial rule is often imposed for exploitation of land and resources. Other, then, describes the process of justifying the domination of individuals or groups in the periphery to facilitate subordination. The creation of the other is done by highlighting their weakness, thus extenuating the moral responsibility of the stronger self to educate, convert, or civilize depending on the identity of the other. Indeed, as defined by Martin Jones et al., 'othering' is a term, advocated by Edward Said, which refers to the act of emphasizing the perceived weaknesses of marginalized groups as a way of stressing the alleged strength of those in positions of power."[citation needed] Othering can be done with any racial, ethnic, religious, or geographically-defined category of people.

In keeping with the example of imperial Britain, the discussion of empire building through othering unfolds in a global context. Critics of empire building believe it stands in fundamental opposition to global community; instead of understanding groups of people, and consequently their intellectual, economic, and political capability as vital and contributory to the global community, othering renders all but one culture's ideology and systems worthless. Immanuel Wallerstein's world systems theory is a more modern criticism of othering and the doctrine of discrimination and racism in society, economics, and all other fronts. This view posits that Imperial Britain saw the values or good qualities of other cultures or powers as a threat to its own power—this was the case even with other economic and industrial powers such as Germany.[citation needed]


Scholars such as Michel Foucault, the Frankfurt School and other postmodernists have argued that the process of othering has everything to do with imaginaries and power acting through knowledge to achieve a particular political agenda in its goal of domination.[5] Edward Said quotes the following from Nietzsche,[6] saying what is the truth of language but

...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.[7]

The knowledge of this sheds much light on historiographies of other cultures created by the dominant culture, and by the discourses, whether academic or otherwise, that surround these written and oral histories. The cultures that a supposed superior ethnic group deems important to study, and the different aspects of that culture that are either ignored or considered valuable knowledge, relies on the judgment of the ethnic group in power. In the case of historiographies of the Middle East, and the Oriental discipline, another dynamic adds depth to this issue. Prior to the late nineteenth century, western (specifically European) empires studied what was said to be high culture of the Middle East, being literature, language, and philology; however, a reciprocal program and curriculum of study did not exist in the Orient which looked at European lands.[8] Distortions in the writing of history have carried over to the post-modern era in the writing of news. As mentioned before under examples of intranational othering, political parties in developing countries sometimes create facts on the ground, report threats that are nonexistent, and extenuate the faults of opposing political parties which are made up of opposing ethnic groups in the majority of cases.[9] Othering via ideas of ethnocentricity—the belief that one's own ethnic group is superior to all others and the tendency to evaluate and assign meaning to other ethnicities using yours as a standard[10] —is additionally achieved through processes as mundane as cartography. The drawing of maps has historically emphasized and bolstered specific lands and their associated national identities. Cartographers in early centuries commonly distorted actual locations and distances when depicting them on maps; British cartographers for example centered Britain on their maps, and drew it proportionally larger than it should be. Polar perspectives of the Northern Hemisphere drawn by recent American cartographers uses spatial relations between the United States and Russia to emphasize superiority.[11]

Gender studies[edit]

Simone de Beauvoir changed the Hegelian notion of the Other, for use in her description of male-dominated culture. This treats woman as the Other in relation to man. The Other has thus become an important concept for studies of the sex-gender system. Michael Warner argues that:

the modern system of sex and gender would not be possible without a disposition to interpret the difference between genders as the difference between self and Other ... having a sexual object of the opposite gender is taken to be the normal and paradigmatic form of an interest in the Other or, more generally, others.

Thus, according to Warner, Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis hold the heterosexist view that if one is attracted to people of the same gender as one's self, one fails to distinguish self and other, identification and desire. This is a "regressive" or an "arrested" function.[clarification needed] He further argues that heteronormativity covers its own narcissistic investments by projecting or displacing them on queerness.

Beauvoir calls the Other the minority, the least favored one and often a woman, when compared to a man, "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" (McCann, 33). Betty Friedan supported this thought when she interviewed women and the majority of them identified themselves in their role in the private sphere, rather than addressing their own personal achievements. They automatically identified as the Other without knowing. Although the Other may be influenced by a socially constructed society, one can argue that society has the power to change this creation (Haslanger).

In an effort to dismantle the notion of the Other, Cheshire Calhoun proposed a deconstruction of the word "woman" from a subordinate association and to reconstruct it by proving women do not need to be rationalized by male dominance.[12] This would contribute to the idea of the Other and minimize the hierarchical connotation this word implies.

Sarojini Sahoo, an Indian feminist writer, agrees with De Beauvoir 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." She disagrees, however, that though women have the same status to men as human beings, they have their own identity and they are different from men. They are "others" in real definition, but this is not in context with Hegelian definition of "others". It is not always due to man's "active" and "subjective" demands. They are the others, unknowingly accepting the subjugation as a part of "subjectivity".[13] Sahoo, however contends that whilst the woman identity is certainly constitutionally different from that of man, men and women still share a basic human equality. Thus the harmful asymmetric sex/gender "Othering" arises accidentally and ‘passively' from natural, unavoidable intersubjectivity.[14]


  • Søren Kierkegaard constantly stressed the relation between the you and the I and love.

    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” (these possessive pronouns) 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. Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, Hong p. 266

  • The poet Arthur Rimbaud may be the earliest to express the idea: "Je est un autre" (I is an other).
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Gay Science, phrased it thus: "You are always a different person."
  • Ferdinand de Saussure described language as, in Calvin Thomas' words, a "differential system without positive terms".
  • Jacques Lacan argued that ego-formation occurs through mirror-stage misrecognition, and his theories were applied to politics by Althusser. As the later Lacan said: "The I is always in the field of the Other."
  • Jean-Paul Sartre's character Garcin, in the play Huis clos (No Exit), states that "Hell is the others," or, alternatively, "Hell is other people." ("L'enfer, c'est les Autres.")

See also[edit]

Sexual difference


  1. ^ Saïd, Edward W. Orientalism, 25th Anniversary Edition. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978.
  2. ^ Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, p.159
  3. ^ Gelvin, James L. The Modern Middle East: A History. 2nd ed. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 39-40. Print.
  4. ^ Johnston, R.J., et al. The Dictionary of Human Geography. 4th Ed. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2000. 375.
  5. ^ Said, Edward W. Orientalism. 25th Anniversary Edition. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. xviii. Print.
  6. ^ Nietzsche, Friedrich. "On Truth and lie in an extra-moral sense." The Portable Nietzsche. Ed. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Viking Press, 1954. 46-7.
  7. ^ Said, Edward W. Orientalism. 25th Anniversary Edition. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. 202. Print.
  8. ^ Humphreys, Steven R. "The Historiography of the Modern Middle East: Transforming a Field of Study." Middle East Historiographies: Narrating the Twentieth Century. Ed. Israel Gershoni, Amy Singer, and Y. Hakam Erdem. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006. 19-21. Print.
  9. ^ Sehgal, Meera. "Manufacturing a Feminized Siege Mentality." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 36.2 (2007): 173. Print.
  10. ^ Fellmann, Jerome D., et al. Human Geography: Landscapes of Human Activities. 10th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 179.
  11. ^ Fellmann, Jerome D., et al. Human Geography: Landscapes of Human Activities. 10th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 10.
  12. ^ McCann, 339
  13. ^ "Feminism is Humanism. So Why the Debate?"
  14. ^ Jemmer, Patrick: The O(the)r (O)the(r), Engage Newcastle Volume 1 (ISSN: 2045-0567; ISBN 978-1-907926-00-6) August 2010, published Newcastle UK: NewPhilSoc Publishing, Page 7, also 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"


  • 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[edit]

  • 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[edit]