Sociology Index

ALTERITY

Alterity is from the word alter - to make a thing different. Alterity is a term central to postmodern discussions of identity in which the self is given meaning in terms of an ‘other’. This other is posed or imagined in terms of difference.

Alterity then is a state of, or condition of, otherness. The term alterity is useful for thinking about how many peoples throughout history have been cast in the role of inferior and as the opposite of those who look down upon them. Negative qualities are projected onto these ‘others’ and the imagined contrast with them strengthens the sense of one's own rightness and confirms one's sense of identity.

Identity and Alterity in Sociological Perspective, Frank Welz (Freiburg) Presented at JNU-Freiburg Sociology Workshop on "Culture and Society in the Era of Globalization", Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Abstract: Contrasting different approaches to identity the search is for a specific socio-logical concept that offers an alternative to an essentialist understanding of identity aswell as to the contradictory celebration of the Other.

Whereas all things considered the latter means a sanguine or pessimistic reification of group differences, the former view has become increasingly outdated: in an era of globalization the real experience of alterity that is the experience of different identities renders essentialist interpretations of identity obsolete.

(1) Firstly, the reasons are discussed why the theoretical and practical discourse on the other and alterity is so topical in contemporary social and cultural sciences.

(2) A difference theory approach as systems theory of Niklas Luhmann explodes the conceptual framework of traditional approaches attempting to open up a perspective for Alterity.

(3) The search is for a specific sociological concept that offers an alternative to an essentialist understanding of identity as well as to the contradictory celebration of the Other. Whereas the latter is currently wide spread in intellectual debates but ultimately means a sanguine or pessimistic reification of group differences, the former view has become increasingly obsolete: in an era of globalization where the possibilities of experiencing alterity and therefore questioning identity has increased immeasurably. The question is why the theoretical discourse on the other and alterity as well as the practical discourse.