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)
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.