'Othering', a favourite gerund in current academic-literary discussion, has yet to enter the dictionaries, but it shouldn't have long to wait. Its status is well earned, if the measure of a word's popularity is what you can do with it, or the kinds of discussion and analysis it enables. I first encountered it in a 1986 essay on travel writing and descriptive ethnography by Mary Louise Pratt, in which she points to 'a very familiar, widespread and stable form of "othering"' whereby 'the people to be othered are homogenised into a collective "they".' This process goes on, even without the assistance of North American academics, under the more familiar name of 'stereotyping'. But the use of the term 'othering' adds the rich implication that the more 'knowable' (that is, the more stereotyped) the object becomes, the more inscrutable - 'other' - it remains. Post-colonial studies, beginning with Edward Said's work in the 1970s on the exoticised and eroticised 'Other', acquired its initial impetus by naming and shaming this operation; its exposure has also been central to feminist and other anti-discriminatory ways of thinking.
LRB 11 July 2002 | PDF Download