Some of the Perspectives We Hope to Bring to Bear

Context and Motivation

Sharp stereotyping as the ‘other’ can occur when politics or society is deeply polarised (as on Brexit in the UK) or when a particular group is politically denigrated (e.g. immigrants by the AfD in Germany). It may be argued that such ‘tribal’ or group behaviour is natural to humans, being deeply social and political creatures. However, when such divisions are too deep they can impede dialogue and thus challenge the fabric of liberal society and democratic politics.

The processes and contexts of such ‘othering’ and polarisation have been studied from many perspectives, but this knowledge is spread across many different fields, including: political science, social psychology, agent-based simulation, cultural and cognitive anthropology, history, linguistics, conflict studies, bridge-building practitioners, economics and sociology. This workshop will bring these fields together to compare their approaches, find common elements and start to map out the journey towards a more holistic and nuanced account.

Contributory Perspectives

Here we briefly describe some of the different viewpoints that this workshop would bring together.

Social Psychology. The social psychological view on others is strongly dependent on group belonging. According to the approaches based on social identity theory8 and self-categorization theory9 the creation and perception of groups and their perception are based on a consequence of the categorization of people, assigning meaning to these groups, and positioning the self within one or several of these groups. However, the perceived group-boundaries can differ depending on the context of the individual and the out-group6. Identifying with groups can have direct positive consequences for the individual, even contributing positively to life-expectancy. On the other hand, according to integrated threat theory7 stereotype and subsequent prejudices towards the out-group may develop if the in-group’s well-being is threatened. Both of these consequences could be the result of contact and exchange with other group members, and particularly of a shared history or collective memory and sharing emotionally charged information. Within these narratives, emotionally strong accounts are likely to be more influential3. However, the malleability of collective memory through emotion and group categorization is also a potential point of intervention.

Identity. Identity is also studied from various other angles, including: personal identity, situated identity, and collective identity4. Collective identity is linked with social movements that can be “identity seeking”5. Emotions are important for motivating collective action, for example, anger can motivate individuals to participate in collective conflict12. The narratives involved in collective identity can be used as performative discursive devices, steering mobilization of social movements as they allow for multiple interpretations of content13. This workshop will draw upon the various strands of identity, narrative, and social movements’ literature to carve out processes and conditions leading towards othering.

Culture. This workshop will draw on the conceptualization of culture as knowledge and values that allow an individual to behave in ways others recognize as consistent with their own knowledge and values (enculturation). Through codes (e.g. education, language, literature, customs, politics and law) and the sharing of messages and interests, the process of meaning making is created of “the self” and in relation to “the other”. Culture is a complex concept which comprises beliefs and values but is non-material and non-social1. Scholars have pointed to the rather complicated entanglement and non-linear relationship between cultural identity on the one hand and the formation e.g. of racism, discrimination and prejudice on the other hand2.

Sociology. From a sociological point of view, othering is a process based on a definitional logic which seeks to differentiate groups on the basis of some socio-demographic characteristics or social or political attitudes. The result of othering is to produce positional loci around which groups can coalesce, from which common understandings of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are manifest. Sociologically, it is important to study two aspects of othering. Firstly, the processes by which othering takes place – the mechanisms which may be linked to historico-cultural experiences and ideologies. Therefore, the power relations for individuals and groups to articulate othering must be studied. Secondly, we need to examine the ways in which the effects of othering – the relational positions between the loci of difference – map on to social categories which themselves are likely to be factors within the othering process. This mapping will be complex as socio-demographic factors cut across attitudinal ones.

Political Economy. Viewed through the lens of political economy, the process of othering arises as a means by which some economic agents legitimate attempts to increase their access to scarce resources and/or power at the expense of others. This acquisitive process may be rather more implicit than explicit. Behavioural analysis indicates that economic agents prefer to view their actions as legitimate or in accordance with recognised cultural norms, even while pursuing self-interested policy. Thus, where a sub-group is denied access to resources or political power, those who promote such denial must justify this exclusion.

Political Science. In political science, the concepts and strategies of othering play a crucial role when seeking to understand recent waves of populism and their potential consequences. Radical (right) populist discourses focus on an alleged antagonism between the ‘pure’ people and corrupt elites along with dangerous outgroups. Populists seek to mobilize voters by accusing the ‘others’ of threating traditional culture, religion, education, public safety, and even national security. Othering has become the preferred means of increasing in-group cohesion by stressing sociocultural differences14. In populism, the notion of the other is extended to include also various types of national elites who are seen as different from the ‘authentic’ people and accused of being complicit in undermining their own community. Preliminary research suggests that othering is employed to shift the political discourse onto sociocultural differences to minimize socioeconomic and ‘rationally-based’ differences of interest15. Moreover, othering helps create political group identities, which according to new research, is linked to citizens’ perceptions of democracy. Investigating the political effects of othering helps to understand the formation of new political preferences and the shifting expectations citizens attribute to democratic institutions.

Approaches to Integration and Comparison

To integrate knowledge from the various disciplines, we will start with the identification of key patterns, processes and dynamics of othering and the mechanisms assumed to produce them. Sinc this is especially important for interdisciplinary endeavours10, this workshop will focus on iterative joint vision building and knowledge integration. To identify key patterns and processes, we will employ participatory and knowledge integration techniques such as group model building11, world cafè, and fishbowl discussions (for more details on these see the section on the programme below).

In parallel to these, we will be looking to the production of integrative agent-based social simulations16. Whilst it is infeasible to produce fully-fledged simulations in the course of just a week, several of the participants are highly skilled at such simulations and will develop prototype simulations which aim to integrate as many aspects as possible – classically such simulations are good at being informed by qualitative micro-aspects and quantitative macro-aspects17.


  1. Kroeber, A.L., Kluckhohn, C. (1952) Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. Peabody Museum, Cambridge, MA; Geertz, Clifford (1973) The Interpretation of Cultures, New York: Basic Books; Kupfer, A., The Anthropologists Account (2000), Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; Ross, N. (2004) Culture and Cognition: Implications for Theory and Method, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications; Baldwin, R.J., Faulkner, S.L., Hecht, M.L., Lindsley, S.L., Eds. (2006) Redefining Culture: Perspectives across the Disciplines, Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum
  2. Baldwin, J., Culture, Prejudice, Racism, and Discrimination (2017) Oxford Research Encyclopedia, University Press USA.
  3. Garcia, D., & Rimé, B. (2018). Collective Emotions and Social Resilience in the Digital Traces After a Terrorist Attack. doi:10.31234/ Rimé, B. (2009). Emotion Elicits the Social Sharing of Emotion: Theory and Empirical Review. Emotion Review, 1(1), 60–85. doi:10.1177/1754073908097189
  4. Owens, T. J., Robinson, D. T., & Smith-Lovin, L. (2010). Three faces of identity. Annual Review of Sociology, 36.
  5. Turner, R. H. (1969). The public perception of protest. American Sociological Review, 815-831.
  6. Macrae, C. N., Bodenhausen, G. V., & Milne, A. B. (1995). The dissection of selection in person perception: inhibitory processes in social stereotyping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 397-407. Schaller, M., Park, J. H., & Mueller, A. (2003). Fear of the dark: Interactive effects of beliefs about danger and ambient darkness on ethnic stereotypes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 637-649.
  7. Stephan, W. G., & Stephan, C. W. (2000). An integrated threat theory of prejudice. Reducing prejudice and discrimination, 23-45.
  8. Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In The social psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–37). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  9. Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., Oakes, P. J., Reicher, S. D., & Wetherell, M. S. (1987). Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory. Cambridge, MA, US: Basil Blackwell.
  10. Cundill, G., Harvey, B., Tebboth, M., Cochrane, L., Currie‐Alder, B., Vincent, K., … & New, M. (2018). Large‐Scale Transdisciplinary Collaboration for Adaptation Research: Challenges and Insights. Global Challenges, 1700132.
  11. Vennix, J.A.M. (1996) Group Model Building: Facilitating Team Learning Using System Dynamics, 297 pp., John Wiley & Sons Ltd, ISBN 0-471-95355-5
  12. Britt, L., & Heise, D. (2000). From shame to pride in identity politics. Self, identity, and social movements, 5, 252-68.
  13. Jones, M., Shanahan, E., & McBeth, M. (Eds.). (2014). The science of stories: Applications of the narrative policy framework in public policy analysis. Springer.
  14. Lazaridis, Gabriella & Giovanna Campani (Hg.) (2017). Understanding the Populist Shift. Othering in a Europe in crisis. London: Routledge.
  15. Merkel, Wolfgang (2017). “Kosmopolitismus versus Kommunitarismus: Ein neuer Konflikt in der Demokratie.“ In: Philipp Harfst, Ina Kubbe und Thomas Pogunke (eds.) Parties, Governments and Elites. The Comparative Study of Democracy. Wiesbaden Springer VS: 9-23.
  16. Macy, M. W., & Willer, R. (2002). From factors to actors: Computational sociology and agent-based modeling. Annual review of sociology, 28(1), 143-166. Edmonds, B., & Meyer, R. (2015). Simulating social complexity. Springer.
  17. Moss, S., & Edmonds, B. (2005). Sociology and simulation: Statistical and qualitative cross-validation. American journal of sociology, 110(4), 1095-1131.

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