“Othering Others” as the Root of Conflict!

Scholars in conflict resolution and postcolonial writers concur that some of the roots of violent interactions among humans are to be found in social, political, and psychological (gendered) processes of “othering”. For the conflict resolution literature, the distinction between self and other is important in the development of individual and collective consciousness.

On the contrary, the formation of in-group/out-group identities with no perceived cross-cutting ties or common interests is related not just to intragroup cohesiveness and sense of belonging but also to intergroup hostility. The formation of contrasting, zero-sum identities (both by individuals and groups) leads to the justification of adversarial, rather than collaborative relations, and sometimes to violent conflict.

Thus, interpersonal and intergroup violence, including interstate violence, partly stems from the process of developing sharp lines of separation and dominance hierarchies among individuals and groups.

Postcolonial writers observe that these lines are drawn through the construction of racial categories and racialized assumptions about “the other” that enabled colonial violence and “civilizing missions” in the nineteenth century and that sustain contemporary (liberal) interventions in postcolonial countries today, including projects meant to uphold human rights and justice.

For Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, the creation of racialized assumptions is itself a form of violence done to the personhood of both other and self, as “uncompleted being[s] conscious of their incompletion”. This dehumanization process is, however, a “distortionof the vocation of becoming more fully human”.

Moreover, feminist analysis points out how the development zero-sum identities is gendered, insofar as the hierarchical, mutually exclusive gender binary is mapped onto conceptions of (frequently masculinized) self and (frequently feminized) other.

For example, the 19th cen. British imperialism in the province of Bengal was dependent on the hegemonic construction of a Victorian ideal of British manliness in opposition and superior to Bengali men’s effeminacy and primitiveness. Both structural and direct violence are possible because of exploitative social structures that assume a dualistic and unequal relationship between the masculine and the feminine.
Confortini and Ruane (2013), Journal of International Political Theory 10(1) 70 – 93