Jens Silfvast

Jens Silfvast

Othering, bordering and narrative identities: a philosophical perspective


In my contribution to this artistic-academic project I would like to

approach our central theme, reflections of otherness, from the point of

view of narrativity and identity-formation.


The concept of othering refers to processes through which human beings

become excluded from some community. The nearby concept of bordering refers

to processes by which human beings are debarred from some place or


Human beings are, in the words of Alasdair Mac Intyre, storytelling animals.

Stories and the telling of and listening to stories are essentially

involved when humans form and express their identities, whether we speak of

the personal identity of individuals, of the collective identies of groups

and communities or of the identities and places.


_We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle

against, the things our significant others want to see in us_ (Charles

Taylor). In a narrative sense, our significant others are the people whom

we consider worthy of listening to if they have stories about us. Their

stories may or may not please us but can significantly affect the stories

that we are able to tell about ourselves, or our groups or our places.


Outside this sphere of (narratively) significant others are the people who

also may have stories about us, but whom we do not consider worthy of

listening to. Our motive for doing so may have to do with the content of

their stories, or with some perceived characteristics of these storytellers

themselves. They are people whom we may call our (narratively)

insignificant others.


There are psychological and other acts through which we remove people from

the inner sphere of narrative significance and place them in the outer

sphere of insignificance (and keep them there). I call these acts narrative

othering. Acts in the opposite direction are also possible, and I will

refer to them as narrative deothering.


How do these two operations, narrative othering and deothering, work? How

are they connected to operations of bordering and debordering, i.e.

debarring people from places or letting them in? And finally, how do these

operations influence our own identities? These are the questions I would

like to reflect on in my contribution.