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Alterity 101: The Alarmist Discourse

How can anyone not want to get rid, and by means without appeal, of someone who is fundamentally a “criminal”, essentially a “danger”, and naturally a “monster”. The safety of all of us is at stake.

- Foucault, The Proper Use of Criminals


Alterity 101 is a set of articles that strive to understand the phenomenon of alterity from a socio-anthropological perspective. The subsequent six articles will embark on a definition of Alterity and its power dynamics; it will also enable the reader to understand how alterity takes form under societal institutions by using the example of prisons. In a world that is disoriented towards the Other, we must ask ourselves which representations have been ingrained in the population and if these representations originate from dominant mechanisms.

1. Alterity 101: Alterity as the Landmark of the Occident

2. Alterity 101: The Power of Alterity

3. Alterity 101: The Alarmist Discourse

4. Alterity 101: Social Institutions as a Solution for Separating the Other from Society

5. Alterity 101: Hyper-incarceration

6. Alterity 101: The Development of a Status: Becoming a Prisoner

The Alarmist Discourse

We have understood the concept of alterity and the power it can have in societies. Now, in the multitude of Others that exist in the Occident, a specific one has to be discerned in order to have a concrete example of the Alterity process condemning the Other. The present article will exemplify Alterity by using the case of the delinquent Other.

Around the 1970s there was a shift in the way the media perceived crime: it changed from being localized and specified to being atmospheric, dispersing throughout society (Garland, 2001). Today, the population obsesses over the possibility of being a victim of a criminal act; individuals think that society is full of delinquents who will rob, rape, or even murder them; people are terrified of the delinquency of Others. Representations of those delinquents are present everywhere in Western culture, but especially in literature. For instance, crime novels reveal the delinquent as a stranger to this world, with no connection whatsoever to the familial experiences and daily life of individuals in society (Foucault, 1975). This foreignness that was previously attributed to the madman, the vagabond, and the beggar, is now attributed to the delinquent. The literature about police inquiries recounts a delinquent which reflects a near far-away, i.e. the original environment of the delinquent seems far and stranger but paradoxically his existence is closer than what we think (Foucault, 1975). If it is true that the criminal persona in literature has sometimes been heroized, it is also true that criminality has constantly been identified as a threat to the social corpus, which has contributed to the construction of a hyper-consciousness of crime (Foucault, 1978). These representations in culture will have an influence on the citizens' feelings of insecurity, an alarmist discourse then emerges, arguing that the contemporary world is a dangerous world and that a criminal act could take place at any time. Real insecurity and the feeling of insecurity are not distinguished anymore, and the alarmist discourse makes citizens feel insecure, even if real danger is not present.