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Alterity 101: The Power of Alterity

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 Power of Alterity

The promises of postmodernism's rationality have not been fulfilled and have left a world in which reason and reality are profoundly destabilized. Today a crisis of representation is in action; the world continues to be transformed via the qualitative organization of symbols, their rhythms of construction, and the various ways they relate to local subjective experiences (Trouillot, 2003). Moreover, the world is now globalized; what happens and affects one population may be relevant to another population on the opposite side of the globe. We live in a world where the Pope is Argentinian and most Marxists live on the western side of the Iron Curtain. Mythical density has been revived through the fetishism of commodities, which renders objects alive and individuals are perceived as objects (Taussing, 1986). This society does not seem to have rationality, let alone a reality. The beggar can be the paradoxical representation of this society (Taussing, 1986): he is seen as foolish, distorted and crazy, who cannot speak or walk well, and sits on the stairs of the main city square or on the biggest shopping street. He lives in a world that seems to be full of fog, between a dream and a prison; he is destroyed, in pain and crying, but at the same time he is laughing and drunk. He is a compelling metaphor for modern life representing the possibility of different discourses in the same individual (the beggar) and in the same place (the shopping street). The dichotomy between good and evil, poor and rich, savage and civilized is no longer distinguishable and can coexist in the same location.