Pragmatics and Difference in the Social Othering of African Colonial Experience

Abstract: Pragmatics, beyond language, is construed here as the deliberate and surreptitious use of language, not just to communicate but “to do things” or recreate some desired order. Difference is, as it were, its philosophical correlation whose syntax, with the idea of the One and the Other, has been used to “make up” or to other the peoples and cultures of colonial Africa South of the Sahara. The purpose of this chapter is to examine how the philosophical affirmations or, simply, the language of difference and the inflectional use of pragmatics on certain terms such as “native,” “primitive,” and “savage” have served as a major plank for the establishment of the social Otherness of the African colonial experience. Put differently, what role, if any, does language play in the social othering of African colonial experience? To this end, we shall seek, first, to determine briefly the sense of critical narrative of how the social othering of African colonial experience was attained via the combined themes of pragmatics and Difference. The chapter concludes that although difference and othering are necessary conditions of human existence, the denigrating othering via language of the African colonial experience by the European colonialists was a case of calling the dog a bad name in order to hang it; and its consequences remain embedded in the physical, metaphysical, and transcendental architectonics of Africa till date.


Abstract: Certain descriptions of personhood imbue an individual with a particular kind of moral status. There are different person-making capacities that are generally laid out as central to the idea of personhood. Some of the person-making capacities are what people generally refer to as the grounding of certain normative requirements that enable us to respond to individuals as entities with a moral status. Herein personhood is a matter of certain capacities that create one’s moral status. These descriptions of personhood bring about a specific structure of identification that has implications for moral accountability. In this paper I aim to interpret the person-making capacities and argue that they can, in some sense, be limiting, and this may be the case in relation to women as a gender group whose personhood has not always been fairly recognized. I will argue that a view of personhood whose person-making capacities exclude a gender group can have negative implications, and I will explore two implications that I think have this negative attitude. On the one hand, a conception of personhood, especially in the descriptive sense that prioritizes rationality and free will above all else, could imply that women, by virtue of lacking such capacities, are not to be considered as individuals with a moral status, wherein society cannot hold them accountable for their actions, nor would they be able to hold others morally accountable. On the other hand, and this second implication relates to difference in the sense of uniqueness, which is grounded on personhood – if women are denied the status of a person, then they would also be excluded from exploring their uniqueness qua radical difference.

Othering, Re-othering, and De-othering. Interrogating the Skolombo’s Fight-Back Strategy

Abstract: I argue that the phenomenon of “othering”—the stratification of identities into in-group and out-group by the norm and the consequent marginalization of the out-group—has created another problem which can be referred to as “re-othering,” that is, when the victim of othering responds with disidentification strategy to counter identity constructed for them by the norm. I use the context of the residents—the legitimate people in the city of Calabar, Nigeria and the Issakaba—the marginalized other, to show how negative identity construction has been used to discriminate against the homeless poor in the city of Calabar. I explore the conditions that compelled the homeless poor to reconstruct their imposed identity Issakaba to Skolombo and contend that it was a fightback strategy. I then employ a new concept, de-othering, as a conversational strategy that might be able to address the mutually opposing negative identification and disidentification constructions in Calabar specifically and in other places where similar problem emerges.

Moral Good, the Self, and the M/other. Upholding Difference

Abstract: This chapter employs the relevant ethical phenomenologies of Buber, Lévinas, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche as well as the philosophical psychoanalysis of Lacan to examine the moral good of difference and to determine the rationale of treating either self or other as more deserving of good. Difference and otherness are not synonymous. Following the Socratic style of dialogue, the chapter emerges from a conversation with a Zulu man who perceives the author as a privileged, white, female South African other due to the failure of the self to understand the actual difference of the other. There also seems, the author acknowledges, to be a pre-existing and fundamental moral value in regard to relating with and comprehending the other as both self-like and necessarily not-self, a moral value emerging from the Christian overdetermination of many South Africans including the Zulu man – the author is, again, “other” (not privileged, not white, not South African, and not Christian). To this end, Levitical and Deuteronomic texts are invoked as a shared philosophical basis for understanding the difference between self and other. From these analyses, the chapter shows that we other violently, when we do not understand our difference. But when we take time to stop and reflect and listen, we can reach agreement that we are completely different in a positive sense – a strategic rethinking of “otherness.” This important and essential form of difference is theorized in the chapter as “m/othering,” illustrating the original forming of identity on which we tend to base perceptions of the other. Difference is shown to be not only desirable but possibly imperative for cultural growth.

Language and Othering in African Contexts

Abstract: Postmodern and post-analytic understanding of African thought was primarily a shift from attempts to understand African thought using Western conceptual lenses to attempt to understand African framework of thought from the conceptual scheme of the people whose thought was being studied. This paradigm shift in the study of a people’s culture championed by such scholars as Ludwig Wittgenstein – notable in his shift from the pictorial theory of language to the game theory – had and continues to have very successful results in the attempts by sociologists, anthropologists, and philosophers to understand African (philosophical) thought. We recall, for instance, the insightful studies of Edward E. Evans-Pritchard, Peter Winch, and Robin Horton and the continuous records by ethnophilosophy. What stands out from this shift to conceptual scheme of a people as a means for unraveling their thought and ideas is the importance of language as a factor that cannot be ignored in understanding various aspects of the being, knowing, and acting of a people. This essay follows in this line of reasoning. It focuses on an underexplored area of the role of language in African thought: how language promotes or impedes positive and negative experiences of othering or alterity in African spaces. It argues that language is imperative to understanding the different levels of othering in African societies. It explores four areas where this is obvious: (1) the lack of competence to speak and communicate in the particular language spoken in the African community in which one dwells naturally in others such as person from the community in a manner that may be inimical to her well-being; (2) the ability to speak in a language of an African people to which one was not naturally born to promote positive relation with the self (the speaker) by the other (the community of selves) to the extent of blurring the gap between the self and the other; (3) the power of language to turn a complete stranger to a close friend when two African strangers meet in a foreign land such as in the Diaspora, a friendship formed solely on the basis of the sameness of language; and (4) the manner in which the other in an African place is conceptually represented to express the people’s understanding of and their responsibility toward the other in such a place. The essay concludes that language remains the richest source to explore and the fastest route to follow in the search for a people’s ideas about othering and difference.

Justice and the Othered Minority. Lessons from African Communalism

Abstract: There are minority groups in every human society, which are often leftovers of the “one” major group of persons within such society viewed as the self-contained group that has nothing to do with the “other” minority groups. The Other is conventionally seen as a threat to the one. Othering within societies invariably results in the exclusion of the Other from the one. By Othering, we mentally or practically classify an individual or group as “not one of us” and, therefore, inferior or less a human person than we are, a process of casting another person, group, or object into a position or role different from mine or ours, and I or we consequently establish my or our identity in opposition to the Other person in a relationship of superiority that allows me or us vilify the Other. Through Othering, we create a system of social exclusion that systematically blocks the Othered minority individual or group from rights and opportunities that are fundamentally the prerogative of all. Hence, issues of justice for the Othered minority naturally arise. This is manifested in the xenophobic treatment of African foreigners in South Africa and Christian minority groups in the mainly Muslim North of Nigeria. The socially excluded is confined to the fringe of society as the minority, whose basic and fundamental rights become privileges by virtue of the Otherness. This chapter critically analyzes and evaluates the manner of othering and exclusion of minority groups in African societies. My primary concern is to examine the role of African communitarian theory in the face of Othering in African societies. I argue that our constant awareness and acknowledgment of our commonness beyond self-contained groups ensures justice and equity in our interpersonal relationships in any human society.

Intrinsic Versus Earned Worth in African Conception of Personhood

Abstract: Every human being ought to have some form of intrinsic value that she has in herself as well as earned or extrinsic value that she earns for herself. Although not free from contention, the possibility of a human being having certain intrinsic values is essential for the very idea of personhood. It is the reason why it would be wrong not to take a baby as a person simply because she is at that moment unable to earn some value for herself. In this chapter, I interrogate how the idea of personhood dominant in African cultures separates one category of persons from another category. In the first category of human beings, persons are intrinsically valued as persons due to their possession of certain ontological and normative qualities. In the second category, a few other persons are not intrinsically valued as persons due to their lack of certain required ontological and normative qualities needed to belong to the first category of human beings. But in this second category, such persons have the opportunity to earn the value of personhood given to those in the first category. Put differently, the other has the potential of becoming the one if he works tirelessly toward it through individual and group efforts. I explore three specific examples of the second category of persons who have worked to earn some form of worth that the African society in which they live presents as extrinsic to them: persons with albinism, black people, and black women. In this case, a consistent individual lifestyle of rising above expectations and group rights advocacy are essential. I conclude that the African conception of personhood is flawed in its failure to recognize the intrinsic worth and value of all human beings regardless of their ontological and normative status and because it also fails in appreciating the importance of difference in the unfolding of reality.

Exploring African Philosophy of Difference

Abstract: It is the tradition of philosophy as a rational and critical human activity across borders to isolate specific human ideas both as syntax and as real and lived human experiences, bring them to the foreground, and make them occupy a crucial and specialized place in philosophical discourse. This is apparent in the many delimited branches of philosophy such as metaphysics – an inquiry into the fundamental principles underlying reality; epistemology – an inquiry concerning the nature, scope, and theories of human knowledge; axiology – an inquiry into the theories of human values; and philosophy of science – a critical examination of the nature, methods, and assumptions of science. African philosophy has thrived and flourished in the last six decades beginning as a reactionary scholarship to prior denial of the possibility of its existence, to becoming an established academic discipline. However, African philosophy although succeeding in establishing its general nature, themes, and problems, is still at the elementary stage of discussing specifics and delimiting its areas of inquiry into specialized fragments. Thus, beyond the general commentaries on African philosophy in existing literature, it is only recently that we find a few scholars writing and laying the groundwork on specialized themes in African philosophy such as African ethics, African epistemology, and African ontology. My goal in this chapter is to bring one essential human experience to the foreground in African philosophy as a specialized area of inquiry. The human experience that interests me here is the ubiquitous concept of difference and the peculiarities of its experience by Africans in Africa and beyond. My intention is to attempt a preliminary sketch of the meaning, nature, scope, and primary tasks of African philosophy of difference. I show, for instance, how African philosophy of difference can shift the discourse of difference from empirical manifestations of difference to an exploration of the theories that stands under such manifestations. I conclude that African philosophy of difference is crucial in understanding and dealing with the complex issues of identity, difference, and the other experienced in Africa in areas such as albinism, xenophobia, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and politics. The possibility of such an inquiry also indicates the prospect of delimiting African philosophy to more specialized spheres of discourse.

Epistemic Injustice, Disability, and Queerness in African Cultures

Abstract: Perception, representations, and knowledge claims about disability and queerness vary across societies and cultures. In African cultures negative knowledge claims and representations of disability and queerness create a perception of the disabled and queer that are not only detrimental to such persons in African societies but arguably undermine the work of understanding difference and tolerance in general. These negative claims raise some epistemological questions, such as: how do Africans come to know about disability and how are such knowledge claims validated within African communities? Against this backdrop, this chapter critically examines the epistemology of disability and queerness in African traditions. It shows that the epistemic authoritarianism found in African epistemology leads to an epistemic injustice that contributes immensely to the discrimination against disabled and queer beings as reflected in many cultural practices across the continent of Africa. The chapter argues that knowledge claims about disability and queerness in Africa emerge mainly from neglect, superstition, myth, and, above all, ignorance.

Enriching the Knowledge of the Other Through an Epistemology of Intercourse

Abstract: Ideas, knowledge, and cognitive claims we have about “the other” or “the different” traditionally stems from what can be referred to as mainstream Cartesianism of epistemic duality, an orientation that has primary consideration for subject-object dichotomy; the knower and the known; the I and the thou; and the center and the periphery. In such considerations, what is of the center perceives what is not as an “other.” This disposition about the other constitutes a gap in cognition resulting in poverty of knowledge – knowledge of the other attained from a distance. Furthermore, this condition presents some rigid boundary between episteme (the knowledge) and doxa (the opinions), between the “self” and the “other,” between reality and appearance, between noumena and the phenomena, or between space and time. The present work attempts an alternative epistemology that avoids the impossibility of obtaining genuine knowledge beyond the self, proposing an epistemology of intercourse which alone, I believe, is capable of re-presenting a robust understanding of the entirety of reality (a holistic cognition of reality that is a continuum). According to this proposal, “knowledge” is “intercourse.” The knower is subsumed in the known and vice versa. Only then can the knower know the other for what it is and appreciates the non-difference between the knower and the known. This way, a just relationship between the self and the other would evolve.