The Other or Constitutive Other (also the verb othering) is a key concept in continental philosophy; it opposes the Same. The Other refers, or attempts to refer, to that which is Other than the initial concept being considered. The Constitutive Other often denotes a person Other than one’s self; hence, the Other is identified as “different”; thus the spelling often is capitalised.


The idea of the Other

A person's definition of the 'Other' is part of what defines or even constitutes the self (in both a psychological and philosophical sense) and other phenomena and cultural units. It has been used in social science to understand the processes by which societies and groups exclude 'Others' whom they want to subordinate or who do not fit into their society. The concept of 'otherness' is also integral to the comprehending of a person, as people construct roles for themselves in relation to an 'other' as part of a process of reaction that is not necessarily related to stigmatization or condemnation. Othering is imperative to national identities, where practices of admittance and segregation can form and sustain boundaries and national character. Othering helps distinguish between home and away, the uncertain or certain. It often involves the demonization and dehumanization of groups, which further justifies attempts to civilize and exploit these 'inferior' others.

The idea of the other was first philosophically conceived by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and later made popular by Edward Said in his well-known book Orientalism. Despite originally being a philosophical concept, othering has political, economic, social and psychological connotations and implications.

History of the idea

The concept that the self requires the Other to define itself is an old one and has been expressed by many writers:

The German philosopher Hegel was among the first to introduce the idea of the other as constituent in self-consciousness. He wrote of pre-selfconscious Man: "Each consciousness pursues the death of the other", meaning that in seeing a separateness between you and another, a feeling of alienation is created, which you try to resolve by synthesis. The resolution is depicted in Hegel's famous parable of the master slave dialectic. 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. De Beauvoir made use of otherness — in similar fashion to Sartre — in The Second Sex. In fact, De 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 articulated 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. 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.[1]

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.

Othering and Imperialism

Before the modern world system where 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 . . .”[2] 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.”[3] The maintenance of this unequal relationship wholly depends on the subordination of an “other” group or peoples, from which resources can be taken and land can be exploited. 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.” 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. Empire building stands in fundamental opposition to global community; instead of understanding groups of people, and consequentially 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. Emmanuel 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. 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.

Relationship between Othering and Knowledge

It is understood by a sizable body of scholars such as Michel Foucault, the Frankfurt School and other postmodernists that the process of othering has everything to do with knowledge, and power acting through knowledge to achieve a particular political agenda in its goal of domination.[4] Edward Said quotes the following from Nietzsche,[5] 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.[6]

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 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.[7] 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.[8] 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[9] —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.[10] Thus we see that agendas of domination and subordination are not only supported by the soft sciences like language, popular culture, and literature, but also through the hard and exact sciences like mathematics and geography.

The Other in gender studies

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.

De 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.[11] This would contribute to the idea of the Other and minimize the hierarchal 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".[12] 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.[13]

Some Other quotations

  • The poet Arthur Rimbaud may be the earliest to express the idea: "Je est un autre" [I is another].
  • Søren Kierkegaard argued that others, the crowd, is "untruth", and stressed the importance of the individual.
  • 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."
  • Emmanuel Levinas, on the other hand, saw apprehension of the other as the basis for ethics, and as a limit on ontology.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre's character Garcin, in the play Huis clos (No Exit), states that "Hell is others," or, alternatively, "Hell is other people." ("L'enfer, c'est les Autres.")

See also

The Other of sexual difference


  • 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.


  • 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


  1. ^ "Otherwise than Being", p.159
  2. ^ Gelvin, James L. The Modern Middle East: A History. 2nd ed. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 39-40. Print.
  3. ^ Johnston, R.J., et al. The Dictionary of Human Geography. 4th Ed. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2000. 375.
  4. ^ Said, Edward W. Orientalism. 25th Anniversary Edition. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. xviii. Print.
  5. ^ Nietzsche, Friedrich. “On Truth and lie in an extra-moral sense.” The Portable Nietzsche. Ed. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Viking Press, 1954. 46-7.
  6. ^ Said, Edward W. Orientalism. 25th Anniversary Edition. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. 202. Print.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Sehgal, Meera. “Manufacturing a Feminized Siege Mentality.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 36.2 (2007): 173. Print.
  9. ^ Fellmann, Jerome D., et al. Human Geography: Landscapes of Human Activities. 10th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 179.
  10. ^ Fellmann, Jerome D., et al. Human Geography: Landscapes of Human Activities. 10th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 10.
  11. ^ McCann, 339
  12. ^ "http://sarojinisahoo.blogspot.com"
  13. ^ 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"

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  • Other — Oth er, pron. & a. [AS. [=o][eth]er; akin to OS. [=a][eth]ar, [=o][eth]ar, D. & G. ander, OHG. andar, Icel. annarr, Sw. annan, Dan. anden, Goth. an[thorn]ar, Skr. antara: cf. L. alter; all orig. comparatives: cf. Skr. anya other. [root]180. Cf.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Other — Oth er ([u^][th] [ e]r), conj. [See {Or}.] Either; used with other or or for its correlative (as either . . . or are now used). [Obs.] [1913 Webster] Other of chalk, other of glass. Chaucer. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Other — Oth er ([u^][th] [ e]r), adv. Otherwise. It shall none other be. Chaucer. If you think other. Shak. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • other — UK US /ˈʌðər/ adjective ► ACCOUNTING used to describe amounts of money, usually small amounts, that are added together and not listed under a separate name in financial records: »These expenses are included under the headings utilities , taxes ,… …   Financial and business terms

  • other — index additional, alter ego, ancillary (auxiliary) Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • other — /udh euhr/, adj. 1. additional or further: he and one other person. 2. different or distinct from the one mentioned or implied: in some other city; Some other design may be better. 3. different in nature or kind: I would not have him other than… …   Universalium

  • other — I. adjective Etymology: Middle English, from Old English ōther; akin to Old High German andar other, Sanskrit antara Date: before 12th century 1. a. being the one (as of two or more) remaining or not included < held on with one hand and waved… …   New Collegiate Dictionary



  • other — 1. adjective /ˈʌðə(ɹ),ˈʌðɚ,ˈaðə/ a) See other (determiner) below I get paid every other week. b) second. Syn: different, disparate, dissimilar …   Wiktionary

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