Looking for simple reading on academic theory of "Other"
August 23, 2011 7:35 AM   Subscribe

I have a friend who is teaching a freshman college class, and who is looking for a good but relatively simple and clear reading to introduce his students to diversity issues and particularly to the concept of "Other" and "Otherness".

He knows some very difficult literary theory articles, but they are not appropriate for the reading level of the students. Ideally, he would like to find a chapter from a introductary sociology textbook, but he doesn't know any (he's a historian himself).

He would also perhaps like to find an example of Othering which is not necessarily current or emotional for his students, as they can get defensive talking about, for example, current race issues. In the past, he's used Geek jokes as a way to explore the concept without anyone getting too emotional. But he would also like to introduce them to the formal theory.

I know a half-remembered chapter on changes in English thinking about the Irish in the 16th/17th cent by the Irish historian Nicholas Canny (from thinking of them as just another culture to thinking of them as less developed - if anyone remembers the full reference, please let me know), but I'm not sure this is clear enough or appropriate. But I was hoping that some of the academics on metafilter may have some suggestions for a short and easy to read chapter or article.
posted by jb to Education (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
One of the most often used articles for this level of discussion about privilege and diversity issues in psychology classes is "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh (this is the excerpted form, but still an effective read).
posted by so_gracefully at 7:41 AM on August 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

This might not be exactly right, but it's interesting, and should be understandable for a freshman class: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/08/21/the-illusion-of-asymmetric-insight/

(Also: it's sad that freshman college students can't be expected to read literary theory articles. If everything is easy you never learn to do anything hard.)
posted by Kololo at 8:00 AM on August 23, 2011

Isaac Asimov's short story Strikebreaker is often used to start such discussions.
posted by paulsc at 8:08 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the vein of fiction, check out Ray Bradbury's short story, The Pedestrian. A guy is out walking at night, and things go downhill from there. I think it would be good to look at literature through the lens of sociology, as you're suggesting. Or to look at sociology through the lens of literature. Both are awesome.

I'm getting ready to start a new semester today, so I don't have any sociology articles off the top of my head, but if I think of any, I'll drop back in.
posted by bilabial at 8:12 AM on August 23, 2011

(Also: it's sad that freshman college students can't be expected to read literary theory articles. If everything is easy you never learn to do anything hard.)

It's the beginning of fall semester, freshman year. These are only barely not high school students. The poster is simply looking for introductory articles - I'm sure they'll be reading more relevent literature by the end of the semester.
posted by maryr at 8:12 AM on August 23, 2011

Simone de Beauvoir's "Second Sex"
posted by Idafolk at 8:18 AM on August 23, 2011

The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois:

"After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, — a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. "
posted by koinonia at 8:35 AM on August 23, 2011

Cormac McCarthy: Suttree or Sunset Limited; Savage Dreams, Rebecca Solnit;James Baldwin, Another Country;Travels with Charley..., John Steinbeck...um...yea i should make a goodreads list i guess
posted by angrywayne at 9:34 AM on August 23, 2011

He might want to try The Other by Ryszard Kapuscinksi. It might have something good.
posted by fso at 10:46 AM on August 23, 2011

Best answer: I have used Stuart Hall's text, "Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices," in my art history classes on the visual history of race. It has a chapter on "The Spectacle of the 'Other'," which is written (as is the whole book) to be incredibly accessible without oversimplifying, goes through various disciplinary/theoretical models of difference and othering, and has exercises that your friend could either literally do with his students or treat as thought experiments while they read. The visual component makes it additionally accessible (although I ruined the images by scanning at a crappy resolution and in black and white). Memail me and I could send you my PDF of that chapter; I don't know if it's available anywhere online already.
posted by obliquicity at 12:14 PM on August 23, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you for your suggestions; I think he may be particularly interested in the art history text (he's an expert on 17th century science and architecture).

I have to say that I have a masters degree in a humanities discipline and I can't parse literary theory. Some people can read complex text easily, others struggle (and many don't find it worth it to put in the effort). I just make up for it by being able to make databases and do simple GIS.
posted by jb at 12:54 PM on August 23, 2011

Edward Said's work is really good, although is at a higher academic level than you want probably. I was introduced to his work as a sophomore in college, and had no trouble with it but YMMV.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:28 PM on August 23, 2011

Montaigne's essay 'Of Cannibals' is short and easy to read (don't use the linked translation, though; find a more up-to-date one), and a good starting-point for discussion. For supplementary reading, try Natalie Zemon Davis's article, 'Cannibalism and Knowledge' (pdf).

Ruth Benedict's The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, with its series of contrasts between American and Japanese culture (guilt culture versus shame culture, and so on) would be another good way to get students thinking about difference and otherness. For supplementary reading, try the chapter 'Us/Not-Us: Benedict's Travels', in Clifford Geertz's Works and Lives, where he argues that the book should be read as a subversive satire in the tradition of Gulliver's Travels.

Don't be misled by the Wikipedia page on 'Other', which focuses almost exclusively on philosophy and literary theory, and has very little to say about the concept of otherness in history, anthropology and cultural studies. In fact this might be a good example to use with freshman students to illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of Wikipedia as a research tool.
posted by verstegan at 8:15 AM on August 27, 2011

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