Dialectical reversal of otherness

Dialectical reversal of otherness

The concept of dialectical reversal of otherness is somehow complex but it refers to attempts to include others ideas’ views and their points of view while excluding them. It is a concept that may imply lack of a clear stand or using others to achieve personal ends. The term may also mean an inclusion that is also at the same time exclusion. This means that attempts are made to welcome or include other people in a given circle, but at the same time, efforts are made to reduce that which is included (Roginsky, 2006). The phrase concisely describes a behavior that can be equated as pretense whereby something said or done is not that which is really meant. It is a way of taking advantage of others for personal benefits through dialogue. This paper delineates on the concept of dialectic reversal of otherness and its importance. Various examples of how the concept is used in artwork will also be addressed in a quest of gaining understanding of the concept as well as how philosophers apply it.

Dialectical reversal of otherness is important in the sense that it makes individuals to get their way out without looking bad or taking the blame. In real life situations, people encounter different situations that make them vulnerable. The only way that they get to solve such problems is through their actions and the way they interact with others. The concept is therefore employed to avoid conflict or to solve a problem without making issues go out of hand.

It is also a concept which helps to remind people that the attempt of including them is not easy and that in some occasions respecting people’s differences is not easy as liberating human souls which may be corruptible. Therefore, understanding this is important in helping individuals to learn how to embrace their differences. In society, people have different beliefs, values, norms and way of doing things. These beliefs sometimes may not conform to what you believe and this tends to create conflict between the people. Dialectic reversal of otherness helps people with different values and beliefs to appreciate one another and live together regardless of the differences.

There are various examples that can be used to enhance understanding of the concept of dialectic reversal of otherness. A good example is illustrated with the primitivism in the western interest in the art/cultural history of Africans. In the 19th century, African art inspired Europeans who liked it and embraced it. Different pieces of art such as beading, music and other kinds of arts were original and unique from their own. This therefore attracted them and made them to purchase some of the articles. This is an inclusion as they wanted to be part of this achievement. Regardless of this, they did not understand the history of African and perceived the culture of African negatively. Furthermore, they had a perception and belief that their culture was more civilized, pure and uncorrupted source of human vitality than that of the Africans. This exclusion illustrates the application of dialectical reversal of otherness. Another example is the separate but equal policy that was adopted by Jim Crow on segregation.  His attempt to ensure equality was an inclusion but the aspect of separation was exclusion. He did this, to ensure that he protected his image as the president and to ensure that African Americans and other people of color do not object to his leadership. He therefore demonstrated that he was concerned about the welfare of the blacks but at the same time used his policies to overlook their plight. Segregation was therefore a concept that was applied in dialogue and in words but not in actions.

Dialectical reversal of otherness is also a concept that is clearly used in different literary works to portray how society perpetrates its discrimination and inequality. One of the authors who employed this concept was George Orwell in his novel, ‘Animal Farm”. In this novel, he uses a phrase, ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” to illustrates how other animals view themselves as more important than others.  Those that have power or authority use this power to manipulate and oppress their subjects and yet they are all animals. Such inequalities and orthodox ways of leadership is an illustration of this concept. Animals use one another for their own benefits and after they achieve or get what they aspire to get; they exclude those animals that have helped them by mistreating them.

Furthermore, many theorists and philosophers in their respective arguments about different issues that happen have also applied the concept. One of the philosophers whose ideas and arguments are inclined to the concept of dialectical reversal of otherness is Jacques Derrida. One of his famous phrase, “for nothing can be taught or learned other than what is believed to be known and understood” (Trifonas, 2002). This quote is interesting when it comes to identity and otherness, as it implies that people are able to either learn to teach what they know and what they understand.  Therefore, it is apparent that a person cannot be able to teach things that (s) he do not know. Similarly, it is very easy for a person who is informed or knowledgeable in a given area to mislead others (Derrida, 1989). These cases are exhibited where an individual does not want to share what he or she knows.

Similarly, the phrase is related to identity in the sense that one needs to have the idea or knowledge about what you want to say and to learn and must understand the benefits of skills.  It is not possible to learn new skills from something that does not exist. Therefore, to be able to transfer skills and knowledge to someone else, one must be informed. Having information is also as beneficial to an individual as it is a source of wisdom and power and a person is at discretion to use the skills and knowledge for his own benefit and advantage.

Another  quote that  is applicable to the concept of dialectical reversal of otherness  from Derida is, “no one gets angry at a mathematician or a physicist whom he or she doesn’t understand at all, or at someone who speaks a foreign language, but rather at someone who tampers with your own language, with this ‘relation,’ precisely, which is yours” (Derrida, 1989). This quote concisely means that it is not likely that a person who does not understand a concept or language will not bother or even get angry even if he or she is abused like the person who is understanding what is being spoken.  Speaking or rather communication is a way of conveying a message to another individual.  In society, this strategy is employed by people to deter others from understanding what they are talking. This normally happens in situations where people want to hide some information from others that do not understand the language. The motive behind this is for individual or group benefit. These behaviors are manifest in many societies especially where there is no agreement and unity. A good example is in areas where two communities are fighting over certain resources. The conversations of one community will be in a different language to ensure that their strategies do not spill out to their opponents.  Therefore, this phrases and quotes help in fostering understanding of the concept of dialectical reversal of otherness.

In conclusion, it is clear that the concept of dialectical reversal of otherness is applicable in our day-to-day lives and is manifest in various history and cultural works. The ideas of philosophers and theorists are also built on the concept. People have the tendency to pretend until they achieve what they want. These behaviors are exhibited in many situations of our life and examples of ‘divide and rule’ strategies, the George Orwell novel about some animals being more equal than others are just but a few examples of the application of the concept.  Even though, the concept is used mostly for beneficial reasons, sometimes, the end does not justify the means. It is therefore important for people to act in ethical and moral way to avoid getting unjust benefits.


Roginsky, D. (2006).  Nationalism and ambivalence: ethnicity, gender and folklore as categories   of otherness, Patterns of Prejudice, 40(3): 237-258.

Derrida, J. (1989). This Strange Institution Called Literature, interview published in Acts of            Literature (1991), 33–75.

Trifonas, P. (2002). Jacques Derrida as a philosopher of education. Retrieved from:             http://www.ffst.hr/ENCYCLOPAEDIA/doku.php?id=derrida_and_the_philosophy_of_ed          ucation


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