Phi Beta Cons

I Just Got ‘Othered’

George: Wow, I can’t believe I just wasted a half-hour sifting through Nina Asher’s Teachers College Record article.


Beyond the flaws of its argument, the piece embodies nearly everything that’s wrong with academic writing: the useless verbiage that expresses a rather simple point; the terms (“interstices,” “othering,” “agents”) that have meaning only in the academy; and, of course, the serenely smug self-identification of the author and her readers as “well-meaning, progressive people, committed to decolonization and a more just society.”

Anyways, when you encounter a paragraph like this, do you laugh or cry?

As noted earlier, a number of postcolonial theorists have argued that the processes of decolonization and social transformation are necessarily self-reflexive, requiring not only the deconstruction of the colonizer and external oppressive structures, but also working through one’s own internalization of and participation in the same. Again, witness [Alice] Walker’s [fictional character] Lynne, the White, progressive Northerner who comes to the segregated South to engage in liberating Civil Rights work, and yet cannot help othering the South, its Black people, and its customs. Evident here is the insidiousness of deeply entrenched, patronizing messages of “othering.” Even those of us who construe ourselves as well-meaning, progressive people, committed to decolonization and a more just society, may have so internalized such splits as superior/inferior and progressive/backward that we may continue to perpetuate them in spite of ourselves. … [I]n practice and in theory, it becomes necessary to examine the interstices at which are located not only the colonized, but also the “agents” who are engaged in the work of transformation.


Lucky us: Nina distills her academese into an asinine essay prompt that some poor college freshmen will doubtless be subjected to. I love how the first prong of the assignment is oblique, but by (c), Nina’s hitting the dumb kids over the head with her exact meaning. No intellectual parsing here! 


Write a 4–5-page typewritten, double-spaced essay using the following questions as a guide to your own thinking.

(a) What are some of your earliest memories as a learner: as someone curious about the world? How was that curiosity cherished, channeled, and/or blocked through home and/or schooling experiences?

(b) Growing up, what and who around you seemed “different” from you, your life? In what ways? As an undergraduate student and a teacher “in process,” how do you understand and interpret your encounters with different others?

(c) In what ways might such factors such as social class, race and/or ethnicity, gender, culture, and language have influenced your development as a child and a student?

Travis Kavulla is director of Energy and Environmental Policy at the R Street Institute. He is a former president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners who held elected office as a Montana public service commissioner for eight years. Before that, he was an associate editor for National Review.


The Latest