Othering and Its Impacts On Society

In the post below, Professor Cardiel defines two types of Othering, a concept whose importance is explored across Adler University’s online master’s program in Criminology and Criminal Justice, and has special applicability in a year of contentious politics.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
-Statue of Liberty Inscription; Emma Lazarus

Many social justice issues plaguing various nations today are made possible by the subconscious, and sometimes conscious, internalization of a criminological concept: Othering. The Other conceptualizes a specific individual, or group of individuals, as drastically different and disconnected from one’s self or facets of one’s identity. By distancing and diminishing the embodied identity or agency of those identified individuals, Othering can then allow for the disenfranchisement of individuals that fall into these “other” undesirable categories or intersections of perceived and proscribed negative categories. In his work The Criminological Imagination, Jock Young postulates two methods of Othering: Liberal and Conservative.

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Conservative Othering

In Conservative Othering, Young describes a form of alienation that is proscribed by individuals who are privileged by socially constructed power (white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and other forms of privilege). That same privileged group then designates the socially constructed norms onto others and determines those that “fit” and those that do not. This alienation can serve to demonize the Others, characterizing them as criminal, deviant, depraved, dangerous, inferior, or immoral and subjects of blatant stigma. This overt dehumanization of a group or individual is crafted and calculated by an intense discriminatory examination of their behaviors, traits, and qualities in an extreme contrast and opposition to the members of the powerful group’s characterization of one’s self. Examples of this in current dialogue can be witnessed in conversations about members of the LGBTQ community being “unnatural, immoral and, sick” or about immigrants from several nations being “rapists, murderers, or terrorists.”

Liberal Othering

Despite the “progressive values” we may attach to the word “liberal,” Liberal Othering is a more insidious and dangerous process than its Conservative counterpart. As a tool used to give the appearance of inclusion and understanding, it is the most socially damaging, precisely for its maintenance of the status quo.

Young describes Liberal Othering as distancing and diminishing a certain group or individual with a reasoning of distinct lacking of some widely accepted socially constructed fundamental norm. It’s worth unpacking the subtlety of that definition via contrast. Conservative Othering often appears openly aggressive and hostile to persons—we need only think of dictators on podiums, barking hateful rhetoric into a microphone. We see Conservative Othering in hiring discrimination, but we see it too in swastikas spray painted on walls, burning crosses, and in outbursts of physical violence. It feels particularly visible because so often it is visceral.

The spaces that Liberal Othering takes place are endless, and can be experienced by people in many different ways. Sports venues with “family friendly” environments make LGBTQ couples and families invisible through the “kiss cam” interactions, which often only highlight cis-gender men and women couples. The accepted practice of mispronouncing varied ethnic and culturally specific names reinforces the marginalization of certain ethnicities and cultures, as does using the term “Indian” to refer to people of Native American descent. When we are told that “inner-cities” are the most corrupt, dangerous, and crime ridden, and in need of additional surveillance, the description typifies a false evocation of Black or Latino neighborhoods. Liberal Othering is often a fumbling procedure—the gentle menace of neglecting to correct inaccuracies, to assume an audience’s homogeneity, to play to unexamined conventions in thought, and to treat as fact stereotypes and clichés. Liberal Othering diminishes difference—it flattens the experiences of a multitude, no matter how crowded with particularities, and asserts a standard that will not accommodated those it does not see.

To further understand the aspect of diminishing as a tool in Liberal Othering, we can critically look at the phrasing of how the “Gay Rights Movement” has made a vigorous and successful push for “same-sex” marriage rights, to the detriment of Trans-identified people. Gender identity and gender issues could not, it seems, be yoked to the slogans of marriage equality—resulting in a campaign that felt successful mostly for individuals who identify as LGB and Q, but not T. Liberal Othering in this example diminished a group’s legitimacy—perhaps especially as it was practiced by another marginalized group. Not only does this diminishment further damage marginalized communities, but it fosters an environment for more powerful groups to use that as rationalizing evidence to discriminate.

Othering in the 2016 Election

Othering no longer embodies the former adversarial discrimination method of one group versus another, White vs. Black, straight vs. gay; it allows for larger social conversations to segment out a variety of individuals by targeted characteristics. It fosters and divides ever more fractured groups. Othering, so notable in the most recent election campaign, was used to rally the fear and hatred of a plethora of individuals based solely on their religious beliefs, their national origins and race or ethnicity, their immigration status and much more. Othering allows for individuals to feel that these “other” individuals are less than, or deserving of the maltreatment they have endured. Overt Othering in this recent election has fostered an environment where in the 10 days following the election (Nov. 9-Nov. 18) resulted in 867 hate crimes, of both aggression and harassment, that were reported in the United States with an alarming number of them in educational settings like schools and universities.

These crimes are not only fundamentally fueled by Othering, but are creating a divisive image of what and who is “American.” In the assumption of someone’s citizenry by their complexion, physical features, and attributes we forget the very nature of what the ideology of America was founded on—a nation of immigrants, a rebellion of persecution, and a welcoming of all in need.

If you’re interested in discussing more about Othering and exploring the intersection of criminology, psychology, and social justice, consider Adler University’s online master’s program in Criminology and Criminal Justice. Click below to find out more information on our program.

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