Julia Khrebtan Hörhager, Colorado State University – The Paradox of Cultural Othering

What is cultural othering?

Julia Khrebtan Hörhager, associate professor of communication studies at Colorado State University, discusses the paradox of this way of thinking.

Julia Khrebtan-Hörhager is an Associate Professor of Communication at Colorado State University and a Director of Education Abroad programs in Europe. She is a holder of three International Communication Association Top Paper Awards, CSU College of Liberal Arts Best Teacher Award, and four Capstone Awards. Her research interests are in intercultural and international communication, European studies, global conflict, international cinematography, Othering, and critical media studies. She is the author of two books, Communicating the Other across Cultures and Migrant World Making, and has published numerous articles and book chapters in edited volumes. Julia’s non-academic experiences include serving as a peace corps liaison in Ukraine, a creative director at an international children’s center in Crimea, an interpreter for a technology company in Germany, a founding partner of a consulting group, and a program director of ACT International Human Rights Film Festival in the USA. Dr. Khrebtan-Hörhager is fluent in seven languages and is often called “a cultural mentor” and “an intercultural ambassador” by her colleagues and students

The Paradox of Cultural Othering

Humans have always discursively made distinctions between the Self and the Other.

Individually and collectively, across time and space, we have been speaking, writing, creating, remembering, commemorating, glorifying, and celebrating certain histories and heroes.

Simultaneously, we have also been muting, erasing, condemning, and forgetting other versions of history and role models, participating in the process of “cultural Othering.”

So, what is cultural Othering?

Cultural Othering synonymizes difference between the Self and the Other as deviance, as a marker of social and cultural inferiority.

When we use categories of identity such as race, religion, social class, or nationality to distinguish groups of people, they risk holding certain groups as culturally “Other.”

Cultural Othering demonstrates who is celebrated and who is condemned, who is remembered and who is forgotten. It affects information in history books, children’s education, and the values upheld in our society.

Cultural Othering happens in everyday life, and you can see its outcomes everywhere—the cash in your pocket, the movies shown at your local theater, museum exhibits, or politicians’ speeches—certain cultural ideologies are consistently upheld, while others are silenced.

When people employ ideologies of imperialism, colonialism, patriarchy, and classism, they position certain groups as superior or ideal/ized people, and actively participate in cultural Othering.

Extreme forms of cultural Othering can lead to atrocities such as genocides.

Cultural Othering happened when Native Americans were expelled from their native lands through the Trail of Tears in the United States, millions of Ukrainians were starved to death during the Holodomor in the Soviet Union, and millions of Jews were exterminated in Germany and Poland during the Holocaust. 

Cultural Othering has always existed, in various forms. It is paradoxical: it is timeless and time-sensitive, it is culturally unique and universal.

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