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Humanity: Understanding and Observing Othering

All over the world, there is still discrimination against individuals and entire groups that differ in one way or another from the generally accepted norm’s notion and are perceived as Others. The emergence of a system of social perceptions is an integral part of cultural production and the exchange of meanings among its members. The process of its creation becomes possible only by using recognizable symbols, images, and language tools that allow conveying meanings to other people. Although, these tools are used to reflect already existing values, some of the values, which are not always objective can be created through them.

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Stereotypes, or deliberately simplified perceptions of social values, individuals, groups, social relations, are formed during a person’s knowledge of the daily world and have a useful adaptive function. The system of stereotypes helps a person to resist unpredictability, disorder, and finally, the danger of external reality, providing tools to control it. Speaking of Others, one means not a particular person or group. In this case, it is about their image, a construct that can live its own life and affect the lives of real people.

Children learn the world through the concepts of bad and good. As a consequence, in the future, an individual experiences an internal contradiction between the two poles – good-bad, which can no longer be reduced to a single whole. There is a desire to distance from what is perceived as “bad” within the individual. In the process of projection ideas a person who tries to separate will be transferred to external objects; thus, “bad” is locked in the image of the Other.

The tendency to view Others as less worthy and, therefore, unequal, is problematic in studies of racism, disability, gender, ethnicity, etc. Stereotypes about Others are formed when a person tries to understand, explain, or justify something unusual to him or her, contrary to personal ideas. Since no real boundaries are separating the Others from the rest, imaginary differences are required that would create and maintain a sense of the objective and insurmountable difference between the Others and the Rest.

Through the creation of stereotypes, clear and fixed boundaries are established, indicating a limited space of values selected from a wide variety of characteristics inherent in a group or person. The stereotype differs from the typing mechanism by its inevitable reduction to a limited set of meanings, which are presented as exhaustive.

Turning to different periods of time demonstrates that there is a constant movement to unification, separation, and identification of a common and unusual. It manifests within different cultures from the dawn of civilization. At the same time, stereotypes of perception of another person are formed. For example, people who were considered as barbarians or peasants had difficulties in achieving high social position in ancient Greece, Medieval Europe etc. One may find a lot of historical cases – women without the right to vote, influence of eugenics ideas on the most powerful minds of the world, etc. The idea that the Other, unusual, alien is no less humanized than the usual, appeared much later.

The characteristic feature of Othering is objectification – consideration of Others solely in the form of objects, not subjects of dialogue. It leads to voyeurism – to indifferent, suspended observation of the Other from the outside. One may also call it de-humanization – the inability to treat another person as an individual, deprivation of his or her subjectivity, and giving the role of an object, merely the bearer of a set of qualities. A vivid illustration of de-humanization is the case described by Cohen (15). Smart and well-known people considered the Carrie Buck case, they were on the top of the hierarchy. However, the influence of eugenic concepts and their fear, that they believed to be justified, provoked the objectification. Carrie was not a unique person for them but the object of treatment. That is the reason why girl’s proofs of her normal mental state were not heard.

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After the separation of the group of Others, their suppression takes place. It is made through a number of mechanisms, especially the building of a rigid order based on the separation of dominant and subordinate. In such a hierarchy, Others are at the lowest level, in the position of oppressed. People are also ranked by their abilities and their loyalty to the existing social system. There is no place for dialogue in society – there is a monologue of the system imposing the enforcement of rules. People occupying a higher position in the hierarchy make the rules for the lowest in status. It is a privileged part of society that can regulate access to public benefits.

The strengthening of the Other’s subordinate position takes place by a marginalization mechanism, when the depicted system is shown as normative, and any Othering is the deviation that must be corrected. It can also be seen in the Molly McCully Brown’s poem, where the narrator was placed in a closed colony for epileptics and the feebleminded. The system believes she has a deviation to correct. Moreover, if this difference cannot be fixed, exclusion from society and isolation are waiting for the character.

The Othering and related concepts are connected with such a phenomenon as discrimination. The study of these processes clarifies before students many features of the world in which they live and explains some human actions. Understanding these ideas, particularly Othering and discrimination, is essential as they demonstrate what needs to be changed in society, what problems prevent the movement towards prosperity. The understanding of Othering is continuously growing, changing, as the world around it, and its values are changing. It can be traced that Others were at first mostly represented by the poor segments of the population, then by members of a different race, and so on. While society tries to overcome one type of discrimination, several others appear. Besides, discrimination adapts, and new directions appear.

The idea of a dialogue and the free choice concept directed against classical monologue are the most valuable factors for achieving social harmony. Humanity has to be engaged in constant productive dialogue. It is necessary to increase interaction, cooperation, and unity of different cultures, groups of people with disabilities, and so on. It is possible through constructive dialogue based on recognition and respect for the individuality and freedom of will of each person. Moreover, rather than marginalizing groups and excluding them from public life, the re-evaluation and reorganization of their rights on a democratic basis are crucial. It can enhance community solidarity and ensure stability by removing the preconditions for the rise of extreme forms of discrimination.

References

Cohen, Adam. Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. Penguin, 2016.

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