Identity and the Other: Counter-Identities at Work

When attempting to answer a question like “Who am I?” it is fairly common to end up describing “Who am I not?” instead. We sometimes use many of these “Others” to understand our individual and collective selves. The idea has been around a long time, and for example played an essential part in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s understanding of the human mind. Otherness as a concept has been advocated by many a 20th century author, including such central names like Edward Said (literary studies), Michel Foucault (history of ideas), Simone de Beauvoir (gender studies) and Emmanuel Lévinas (philosopher). The relationship between the Self and the Other has been an influential approach also in anthropology and sociology, to name just a few.

In this workshop, the connection of Otherness and Identity shall be examined closely. Fitting topics include different kinds of group identities (be it religious, national or ethnic) as well as personal identities and the role played by an “Other” in the process of establishing those identities.

Our leading questions shall be: Is it really necessary to have an “Other” in order to create an identity? Which other purposes can the invention of something “Other” serve? In which situations is the concept of an “Other” particularly stressed? How and under which conditions does the idea of a somehow “Other” spread from its originator to wider masses? Case studies for the workshop can be found in every time and region. In order to get to a more abstract level of discussion, the questions mentioned above should be touched in one way or the other in each individual presentation.

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