Us and Them

This is the third conference under the heading “Us and Them – Them and Us. Constructions of the Other in Cultural Stereotypes” and the first one co-organised by the English Departments of the universities of Jena, Germany and Szczecin, Poland.


Neighbourly relations frequently position a self against an Other. This is the case between individuals, nations or within various cultural groups of a nation. Our racial, ethnic, social, or gender identities are created in demarcating ourselves from others who differ from us in culturally significant ways. These processes of identity formation are often spurred by stereotyping the Other. Sometimes these stereotypes take the form of humorous teasing or satirizing critique. Often, however, stereotypes turn into petrified value judgements of others and lead to discriminatory acts, violence, and sometimes culminate in warfare and genocide.

Disrespect of the immediate neighbour based on stereotypical pre-conceptions and cultural bias may lie dormant for a long time and then, activated by changes in the economic and political macrocosm, surfaces instantly and fuels economic exploitation, political suppression, destructive propaganda and, ultimately, pogroms. What had up to this point been recognised as a familiar neighbour, who was defined through linguistic, cultural, and religious distinctions, now not only transmutes into the unfamiliar, but the disrespected and, finally, hateful, Other.

A more detailed look at the rhetoric of recent conflicts around the globe related to religious fanaticism, economic crises, racism, or sexism reveals deeply entrenched pre-conceptions of the gendered, ethnic, or social Other. Such stereotypical representations of the Other are shaped and disseminated through fictional and non-fictional texts, television, films, and the internet as well as in everyday cultural practices. As a result, media products feature prominently in producing, propagating, and maintaining cultural difference in ideologically effective ways. Degrees of covert or overt forms of disrespect range from conventional hetero-stereotypes (e.g. Southern laziness, African inertia, Polish cunning, Greek economy, Scottish meanness, Irish drunkenness) in everyday encounters to open de-humanisation (axis of the evil, unbelievers, terrorists) in times of heightened ideological or military tensions.