Sociology Index


Alterity is from the word alter or to make a thing different. Alterity occurs even in homogeneous societies. 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. 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. 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. For believers in the Judeo-Christian Ethic tradition, God is the ultimate 'Other'. Alterity has also been used to describe the goal of many Christians, to become themselves deeply "other" than the usual norms of behavior and patterns of thought of the secular culture at large.

Identity and Alterity in Sociological Perspective, Frank Welz. Presented at JNU-Freiburg Sociology Workshop on "Culture and Society in the Era of Globalization", Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Abstract: 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the latter means a sanguine or pessimistic reification of group differences, the former view has become increasingly outdated: in an era of globalization the real experience of alterity that is the experience of different identities renders essentialist interpretations of identity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) 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) In an era of globalization 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.

In "Alterity — A Category of Practice and Analysis," "It is also increasingly being used in media to express something other than "sameness", or something outside of tradition or convention." - Bachmann-Medick, Doris.

Alterity is a precious and transcendent element and its loss would seriously impoverish a world culture of increasing sameness and "arrogant, insular cultural narcissism." - Jean Baudrillard and Marc Guillaume; Translated by Hodges, Ames (2008). Radical Alterity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Enzo Bianchi in Echoes of the Word expresses this well, "Meditation always seeks to open us to alterity, love and communion by guiding us toward the goal of having in ourselves the same attitude and will that were in Christ Jesus."

"Given the various theorists formulations presented here, the mediation of alterity or otherness in the world provides a space for thinking about the complexities of self and other and the formation of identity." - Wexler, Joshua. "Alterity". Theories of Media: Keywords Glossary.