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Difference, Otherness, Exclusion


Etienne Balibar
Published online: 05 Aug 2006.

To cite this article: Etienne Balibar (2005) Difference, Otherness, Exclusion, Parallax, 11:1, 19-34, DOI:
10.1080/1353464052000321074
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parallax, 2005, vol. 11, no. 1, 1934

Difference, Otherness, Exclusion

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Etienne Balibar

I am extremely grateful for the invitation to talk at Columbia once again on the
occasion of my annual visit to the United States.1 This is an ever renewed pleasure and
honour. Two years ago, in a similar circumstance, Edward Said made me the gift of
being in the audience. I remember this graciousness with deep emotion. With your
permission, I will also present this lecture delivered in his University as a tribute to his
memory.
This lecture has been announced in agreement with my friends and colleagues from
the Department of English and the Center for Comparative Literature and Society,
under the provisional title: Rethinking Race and Difference. Allow me to add some
correction to this title, to indicate more precisely what my intentions are. First of all,
the category difference is only one of those which I want to discuss. In fact, I am going
to examine and compare three anthropological categories which, it seems to me, have been
playing an important role in the analysis of racism in the last twenty years or so, both
retrospectively and prospectively, to clarify the structure of racist social and ideological
formations, and to anticipate their transformations, not to say their future. These
categories are difference, otherness, and exclusion (or more precisely, as I will explain, internal
exclusion). To be sure they have a family air, they can be understood as highlighting only
nuances within a single paradigm, however significant they might be, or as implicitly
setting a progression which is almost already a kind of explanation (racism as difference
or differentiation pushed to otherness leading to exclusion). They are in any case
combined in most of the current explanatory patterns that we have in mind, and
clearly overlapping in the singular histories and typical situations that we associate with
the issue of racism. But I find it useful here to distinguish them, at the cost of some
convention perhaps, in order to display the full range of anthropological issues that are,
or have become involved in the theorizations about racism, and to discuss the
epistemological problems that derive from such an extension. Needless to say, this is a
very provisional and experimental attempt.
A second qualification that I want to bring in concerns the angle from which I will be
addressing the issue of racism. This angle will be very oblique, again in a provisional and
preliminary manner. Please notice that I did not suggest the title: rethinking race as
difference, although this is part of the problem (and I might now add: race as otherness, race as
exclusion are also part of the problem). But I indicated more vaguely: race and difference,
and otherness, and exclusion. I ask your permission to introduce a little bit of logical
hairsplitting here, to explain what is at stake. What I think we can assert with some
evidence is that, wherever the origins and working of racism, as a social and ideological
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phenomenon, with its objective and subjective aspects, have been addressed in the recent
period as an anthropological issue in the broad sense (and I will submit in a moment that
this has been also a turn in the history of anthropology itself), a general category has
become central: either the category of difference, or the category of otherness, or the
category of exclusion. Now each of these categories, however similar they may be (and
we can already notice that they belong to a very general paradigm of negativity),
practically leads to emphasizing different epistemological implications of racism, e.g. the
centrality of difference is associated with a prevalence of the debate on biological and
cultural, or more generally non-biological groundings of racist discriminations, let us say
racism with races and racism without races, assuming that race is a biological concept,
whereas the centrality of otherness is associated with a prevalence of the debate on the
relationship between race and nation, racism and nationalism, more generally racism as a
normal or pathological development of institutional community-feelings which discriminate between the us and the them, or the self and the others, at different levels,
national and supranational, such as the so-called level of civilizations, again with or
without an explicit reference to the notion of race, and with very different ways of naming
and defining races. And the centrality of exclusion is associated with a prevalence of the
more directly political debates on the statuses of persons and groups within constituencies
and societies, with respect to rights of citizenship and residence, and to normative
qualifications and disqualifications, or simply equality and liberties. But in neither case are
in fact these prevalent associations the only possible ones, which seems to me to derive
from two causes.
One is the fact that, when you bring in such anthropological categories as difference,
otherness, exclusion, or you start giving an account of racism, race-thinking, racediscrimination, race-suppression, race-extermination, in terms of the social and
ideological (and also symbolic, imaginary, political) productions, so to speak, of race as
difference, race as otherness, race as exclusion or excluded element, which can be done
in various ways admittedly, you jump to a much more abstract and general level. The
categories that you are using have a logic of their own (which can be indicated by
referring to their opposites, the positivity that they negate: identity or sameness,
selfhood, which is quite another way of understanding identity, inclusion or
recognition, etc.), or they can be progressively given a logic of their own, and in a
sense this is precisely why there is an interest to choose them and distinguish them. In
the end, the theoretical point becomes indeed to develop this logic, unfold its dialectical
possibilities, play on its internal antitheses and possible reversals, racism itself being
considered as a field of experimentation and illustration. To be sure this is not deprived
of practical importance, which would be enough to justify the jumping to the higher
more abstract level, as can be seen in particular through the intense debates which
surround the issues of differentialist racism, identity politics and multiculturalism,
etc. But it also means that somehow racism is not the sole, perhaps not even the main
issue.
This is the other aspect. When you understand racism in terms of difference, or
otherness, or exclusion, you establish analogies, perhaps more than that: intrinsic
correlations, with other phenomena: sexism, nationalism, imperialism, social or biopolitical exclusions, etc., which means either that the real social and ideological
formations are understood in terms of combined processes of discrimination and
identification, of which racism is only one, with different subjects and objects, or that
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racism is seen as an extreme form, a final product of a set of such processes, whose
realization depends on circumstances and can be over-determined by other factors
(religions, war, colonization, etc.), or finally that racism is understood in terms of a
deeper or more general structure, whose logic the anthropological categories precisely
try to capture. This is the case including and perhaps most of all when they are
used to provide a mediation between racism as an ideological formation and
another determining social structure, such as world capitalism, bio-political governmentality, etc. But the structure can also stand for itself. From the point of view of an
investigation and a definition of the notion of racism, I want to insist on the fact that
this theoretical evolution, which I repeat has played a major role in anthropological
research over a quarter of a century at least, has an ambivalent epistemological
meaning. We might say that, by reducing or conducing racism to its core, its typical
structure, its process of production, it is also pushing it towards its boundaries, in the
double sense of limits, where racism meets with other phenomena (I will return to the
issues of racism and sexism, racism and nationalism, racism and alienation), and of
extremities, where racism becomes something else. Or, to put in other terms, by moving
from a simple reaction of defense against racism and a critique of its murderous
prejudices against specific groups, its denial of certain basic human values, etc., to a
more specific understanding of its constitution, the reasons for its astonishing resistance
to critique, not to say its permanent existence, we are also joining a zone of
indistinctiveness, where we are no longer sure that we are indeed theorizing about
racism, and not about other, very general phenomena with a number of historical and
sociological illustrations, and finally about certain fundamental characteristics of
culture, society, political communities, economic structures, the collective imaginary,
etc., of which racism would be a symptom, or whose conflicts and violent outcomes it
would reveal.
I dont say this is a bad thing, I only say that it is an epistemological paradox. It can be
the case, for example, that racism was a cultural phenomenon typical for a certain era
in modern history, which has tended to recede or become superseded by other forms of
collective discrimination and violence, and that a deep anthropological understanding
of the mechanism and forms of racism in terms of differentiation, projection of the
Other, or internal exclusion, has provided the possibility to bridge the gap and
interpret this transition. Or it can be the case that racism has not receded at all, but has
proliferated, albeit sometimes in new forms (as a neo-racism, some proposed),
targeting new groups, speaking another language, setting up other discriminations, and
that the theoretical discourses of difference, otherness, exclusion, have provided the
keys to the understanding of these metaphors and metonymies of racism. Or it can be
the case that these two scenarios in fact are not discernible, or only verbally (but
naming, in political issues, does enormously matter). Which brings me to the third
preliminary consideration that I want to bring in, in order to justify the oblique
manner in which, tonight, I will be discussing racism.
This consideration arises from a simple question: why do we call racism racism? Or if
you like: why do we believe that something exists, deserving the name and qualification of
racism, which has to be observed, analyzed, explained, critiqued, combated, if possible
eliminated, if impossible kept under control, etc.? I want to avoid misunderstandings here:
if I ask this question, this is not because I would not believe that there is racism among and around
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us, it is quite the opposite: I do believe that there is a lot of racism, more than ever in a
sense, and a very dangerous one, I even believe that racism has a bright future, so to
speak, which is a pessimistic view, but can be held by referring to a number of general
conditions and direct causes. But I also believe (as do other scholars) that the term racism
has become extremely equivocal, as a consequence of its increasingly multiple uses,
including its negative uses, in the form of denunciations and critiques of racist doctrines,
attitudes, discourses, policies, etc., and as a consequence of transformations in the social
conditions in which racism develops into practices and discourses, and merges with other
formations. So what I think is needed at the very least is an epistemological clarification of
the category racism whose precondition, as always, is a nominalist moment where the
name itself, its origins, unity, degree of generality and definitions are questioned.
I have addressed this issue in other circumstances, and I will certainly return to it some
day in greater detail, but let me suggest the following. We speak of racism because
others have spoken and speak of race and races, or race relations, racial
composition and distribution of populations, etc. And we speak of racism because
this term has been coined, and, shortly after that, has become officially adopted and
defined by international institutions which combine political authority and intellectual
expertise. I cannot go into details, this is not my object now, but I need a quick
clarification for these two statements, which concern complementary aspects of the
historical process of the invention of racism, so to speak, an invention on which our
current investigations and debates are still depending, but whose problematic character
has progressively become more evident. Brutally expressed, at the cost of enormous
simplifications, let me suggest that there was a time when anthropology, as a discipline
and a reflective project concerning the self-understanding of man in general,
universalistic in scope but rooted in a certain part of the world, was mainly concerned
with defining races, race differences, racial patterns of heredity, of behaviour, of
intelligence and culture. This moment in the history of anthropology was heavily
dominated by biological doctrines, themselves deriving from classifications in natural
history. But this was not its only conceptual basis. For there has also been a time when
the project, or one of the typical and defining projects of anthropology, has come to
explain racism, more precisely to explain why and in which sense individuals and
especially groups or communities are racist, and even why it is extremely difficult for
individuals and communities in certain conditions not to be racist, what kind of causality
and necessity are at stake here. If you push this antithesis to the extreme, idealizing it to
some extent, but still referring to massive historical and epistemological evidence, you
can view it as a sort of Copernican Revolution in the history of anthropology, which
has displaced the race idea and some of its equivalents or substitutes from the
position of objective, scientific categories to the position of subjective illusions,
prejudices or myths. The anthropological problem was no longer to deduce
consequences including political and social consequences from the fact that
there existed races, diverse and also unequal; it came to understand why humans,
individuals, societies, believe that there are races, or that races are incompatible and unequal, and
draw consequences from that, in the end to organize their lives and their relationships
according to this belief. We are still very much in this orientation, I must say, which
means that the signifier race has not lost its importance, if only in an inverted form, as
a name for the pathologies of humanism, but we are also becoming aware of the
arbitrary elements involved in this anthropological turn.
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Now the reversal from an anthropology of the races to an anthropology of racism (and
different racisms) was certainly not accomplished overnight, it was prepared by long
debates concerning genealogies, races, languages, cultures, societies, where great
anthropologists took an active part already during the nineteenth century and more
actively during the interwar period,2 but the decisive issue was an institutional one: it
was the initiative of the newly founded UNESCO in 1950 and 1951, following a
commission of the United Nations based on the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, to have a group of eminent scientists: biologists, sociologists, anthropologists,
historians, etc. (in fact two successive and partially different groups) propose a
declaration concerning the uses and misuses of the concept of race. These scholars,
officially endowed with the mission of providing the theoretical foundations for a
politics of human rights, combined the three experiences of European anti-Semitism,
which had produced the Nazi genocide, Colonial rule and domination over the subject
races by the so-called superior races, and American racial laws and practices of
segregation on the basis of the White-Negro colour divide, to define a broad ideological
formation (they said prejudice and myth) called racism. It was characterized
philosophically as a denial of the unity or even indivisibility of the Human Species, and
scientifically as a (wrong) belief in the deterministic association of cultural differences,
intellectual inequalities or so-called, mental dispositions, etc., with biological hereditary
differences. This did not lead to a unanimous or unambiguous rejection of the concept
of race itself as a biological unit, at least not immediately, but I leave this aside,
and I finish this preliminary set of considerations by emphasizing the following
point. The critical definition of racism and the associated anthropological turn
were both enormously successful in terms of setting an agenda for the action
of pedagogical institutions, providing national and international politics with a
humanistic discourse crossing the barriers of political systems and parties, and
opening the field of new developments in the human sciences. But they were also
remarkably unstable in their conceptual equipment, to speak like Foucault and Paul
Rabinow. And this is where, indeed, we can retrieve the issues of difference, otherness
and exclusion.
What I suggest is that, in the wake of this official definition, without which we might
possibly not have had a debate over racism at the core of the social sciences with such a
broad range of implications in theory, cultural criticism, law and politics, and which is
indeed a remarkable effect of power-knowledge in its way, two sets of problems arose
and combined. One set of problems concerned the transition from the negative
philosophical element at the core of the definition of racism, which is best understood
as a development of the natural rights tradition and a new foundation of humanism,
namely the idea that racism in its different forms negates the indivisibility of the
Human Species and invents a story of separated evolutions, inherited inequalities and
hierarchies to justify social discriminations (of what Gobineaus famous book On the
Inequality of Human Races became a symbol), to the positive theoretical program of
explaining whence this illusion derives its convincing power apart from the interests it
served and ultimately how it works, in which psychological and social structures it is
embedded. In the end racism could not be understood only as a prejudice, or even a
myth, unless you give the concept of myth its full anthropological meaning, and not
only as an artificial instrument of domination and political manipulation of the masses,
unless again you give the problems of mass politics in the democratic age their full
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complexity and ambivalence. It had to be understood as a way of constructing and


instituting communities, social formations, normative patterns of behaviour, and as a
mode of thought, which combines intellectual, even sophisticated scientific or quasiscientific hermeneutic models with affective complexes of sympathy and antipathy,
therefore connects conscious or unconscious individual thinking with collective
representations. Which inevitably also leads to the idea that there are categories of racist
thought, not only fantastic narratives and obsessions. But another set of problems
continuously over-determined these theoretical issues, pragmatic problems if you like.
Racism had been defined as the common element underlying Anti-Semitism,
Colonialism and Colour Segregation, and the critique of this element set an educative
program for the whole world, a program of self-education of Mankind, as it were, both
corrective and instructive. But was this combination consistent? Why, apart from the
pressure of a given historical and political conjuncture, and probably also the influence
of certain powerfully eloquent discourses, did it include in the definition of racism
precisely these typical cases? Did it ignore others? Did it in fact produce an effect of
mutual clarification, deeper understanding and more effective critique of each of the
typical forms of racism, or rather a neutralization of their specific historical origins
and typical narratives, a projection of ideas originated in certain situations and
experiences upon others and a reduction of them all to an abstract stereotype? As we
know, such debates never ceased to accompany the analogies between Anti-Semitism
and Colour Prejudice, Anti-Semitism and Colonialism, Colonialism and Segregation,
etc. The unity of Racism as an ideological formation, supposedly typically Modern,
had been particularly founded on a purely intellectual basis, biological theory of race
as an evolutionary unit, with its complementary aspects: a linear deterministic view of
Progress, a hierarchic geographic view of the diversity of cultures, a primacy of purity
over hybridity, a phobia of degeneracy and misgenation, a program of negative
and positive eugenics which to a greater or lesser extent had been adopted in all
three cases toward the end of the nineteenth century. But was this reference equally
intrinsic and working the same way in every racist culture? Such an interrogation
became all the more insistent as the practical forms of resistance against racism, which
the official intellectualist definition did not exclude, but certainly did not put in the
centre, gained strength and directed toward the dominant cultures an interpellation
concerning their being intrinsically racist at the level of representations and
institutions; as historians, politologists and the very labour of memory sharpened the
cleavages between different politics and experiences of racism, notably the difference
between a racism of subjection, conquest and exploitation, and a racism of elimination and
extermination, and the controversies intensified as to one passed, or not, from one form to
another, not only in the past, but also in the present and possibly in the future; last but
not least, when the issue of understanding the specific history of each instantiation of
the racist culture interfered and combined with the understanding of other equally
important and also negatively characterized cultures, either in terms of succession, of
analogy, or correlation, or competition, such as sexism and patriarchy, religious
intolerance, nationalism and imperialism, but also liberalism, individualism and
market culture. The response to these theoretical and practical challenges, this will be
my hypothesis, was to raise the question of the essence of racism to a meta-theoretical
level, where contradictions, analogies and transformations could be worked out. And
the typical instruments of this Aufhebung were the anthropological categories of
difference, otherness, exclusion.
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Now each of these categories has indeed an epistemological history of its own, made of
numerous applications, definitions and redefinitions, reversals and extensions, and
permanent tensions, that nobody would dream of reducing to a few names and a few
sentences. And these histories are not finished; they are still running, productive, and
controversial. I will make no attempt at exhausting the subject. I will sketch a parallel
between certain typical dialectics that occur when one theorizes racism in terms of the
general issues of difference, otherness, exclusion, and which can be referred to some
names and works, and I will try to derive from this a philosophical hypothesis
concerning the place, or symbolic location, of the problem called racism (perhaps also
of the name race itself, which keeps haunting the problem of racism, as a presentabsent reference) in anthropology.
My discussion of difference will focus on the shift from nature to culture in the definition
of racism, but also the processes of the naturalization of culture, it will refer to the
fixation of identities in the framework of historical structures of domination such as
colonialism and patriarchy, but also to their becoming fluid and ambiguous as these
structures evolve from closed to open relationships of power, and in the end to the
paradoxical return of the biological determinations when the scheme of differentiation reaches the point of absolute difference, or singularity.
My discussion of otherness will focus on the typical feedback effect of the process which
projects the imaginary figure of an alien or external collective other, who at the same
time becomes reified as object of domination and knowledge, and becomes fantastic
as a threatening double, or an essential enemy, when the self receives its identity from
the relationship established with the other, or simply constitutes itself as the others
other.
My discussion of exclusion will focus on the alternative which arises from the fact
that to be excluded from recognition, status, dignity, rights and access to the
normal social relations and activities, therefore prepared i.e. elected or selected for
elimination, can take a different form and must be conceptualized in different terms
when it is mainly referred to a legal framework and a sovereign political body,
such as the Nation-State, and when it is referred to a system of social norms which
include the individual within a network of practices and productive functions.
In both cases, what makes the relevance of the category of exclusion for an
understanding of racism, even when the traditional boundaries of communities are
superseded, is the fact that exclusion in fact does not mean a rejection towards the
exterior or the outer space, but, again in a paradoxical manner, exclusion towards the
interior or interior exclusion, of which total institutions (Goffman) and camps of
extermination form the extreme realizations. But the notion of an interior and
interiority is itself highly equivocal. And in a sense it is precisely destroyed by its
exclusive implementation.
And my conclusive hypothesis will try to articulate some propositions concerning
the remainder of the idea of race and the resistance of the very name race beyond the
critique of racism with a question about the figures of the subject that are at stake in
these heterogeneous dialectics.
Let me now start again with the category of difference. What is perhaps most
striking in the dialectics of difference, differentiation and diversity, in contemporary
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critique is a general shift from the collective to the singular, the issue of typologies
and classifications becoming the issue of personal identity and its normative
character, which accompanies a reversal in the value of the category itself,
whereby difference, instead of being associated in a negative sense with the ascription
of unequal social roles and places for discrimination, becomes a positive value, a
freedom from homogeneity and uniformity, therefore a basic component of liberty. If
you combine these moves together, you obtain the contrasting figures of a
differentiation which is imposed from the point of view of a hierarchic totality, e.g.
a typology of Human Races or Cultures, and a differentiation or dissemination or
differance with an a as Derrida would write, which indicates how identities always
differ from themselves, or the fact that the most fundamental difference, the one
that precisely resists the classifications and typologies, or its own fixation as essential
difference, always arises from the inside, from the very existence of singularities.
Therefore to differ from oneself or to be absolutely different is also, indeed, to differ
from any difference that has been ascribed to the singular by narratives of
domination and objectification. It means not to be identified with the marks of
difference: colour, character, heredity, dispositions. But we should notice that in
any case a formal reference to the category of identity remains indispensable to
articulate difference, even and perhaps above all when it is a question of reversing
their traditional order.
Now this shift, which in a sense is bound to remain suspended or challenged in
practice, or to appear as an infinite task, does not take place in an ethereal
metaphysical space, it is inseparable from historical issues. The most obvious one is the
debate concerning the biological foundations of race and the more or less complete
equivalence between naturalistic biological definitions of human races and more recent
typologies of cultures and civilizations pictured as unequal, incompatible and
heterogeneous, which was prompted by the transition from colonization to decolonization
and the post-colonial order. The category of difference became central in the analysis of
racism to emphasize particularly the idea that the indivisibility of Mankind could be
practically denied (therefore the full participation in the Human achievements denied to
some groups) not only via the assertion that there existed an originary diversity of
antagonistic races founded on biological heredity, but also and perhaps more effectively via
the assertion that human history is a confrontation of antagonistic civilizations, founded on
cultural heredity or memory, which either clash with one another or become subjected to
one another or degenerate when they become mixed. But it is also within this culturalist
pattern that the racist worldview could be reversed, as it were, from the inside, inasmuch as
the history of culture is also clearly associated with processes of alteration, crossing,
transfer, translation, hybridization, diaspora, which have no intrinsic limit, or entail
unlimited differentiation. So that after differences had formed the essential weapon of
essentialist and racist anthropology, they could also be vindicated against the discourse of
racism, which is a discourse of stereotypes, limiting the possibilities of difference in the very
moment in which it seeks to assert them and transform them into inequalities and stigmas,
or which is indeed poor in difference, so to speak. Difference can not remain under
control.
But this is too quick, not only because it repeats well-known stuff, but because it also
misses a crucial element in the understanding of this dialectical evolution, which
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nevertheless is indispensable to explain why the reversal from a negative to a positive


value of the idea of difference is not easy, why it remains suspended, as I said a
moment ago. I think that this additional element comes from the fact that analyses
of discriminations and patterns of domination on the basis of difference never only, or
separately, concerned race and its cultural equivalents, but always, explicitly
or implicitly, race and gender, racism and sexism. The critical and unstable category
of difference was not (and is less than ever) meant to explain only how racist discourses,
racist structures, racist practices and institutions pass from the language of biology and
evolution to the language of history and culture, but it is meant to draw an analogy
between the naturalization of races as a cultural phenomenon projected into the realm
of biology and the naturalization of genders and gender roles as a social phenomenon
projected into the realm of biological sexual difference. And I think that, if one does
not install right away the dialectics of difference and differentiation within the horizon
of this great analogy, which supports the whole project of an anthropology of
difference, personal identity and human types, one can grasp neither its radical impact
on the idea of the human nature nor its intrinsic aporias. I would like to illustrate this
by quickly referring to the work of one important theorist, Colette Guillaumin, who is
now better known in the English speaking world, owing to the translation of at least
one of her collection of essays.3 Colette Guillaumin in my opinion is especially
important because she is the real inventor of the notion of differentialist racism,
racisme differentialiste, which was later to be retrieved by others, including myself, and
consequently attributed to them. But she is also a radical feminist, who together with
others has developed the idea of the naturalization of sexual difference in order to
produce the division of tasks from household to professional activities which
reproduces the patriarchic domination and legitimizes it through the idea of a
determinism associated with the biological functions of the difference between men
and women, notably child-bearing and rearing. My reading of the work of Guillaumin
implies that, without this model of the naturalization of nature in the form of a social
categorization and a hierarchy of sexual roles founded on the language of
reproduction, which indeed is considerably indebted to the earlier demonstrations of
de Beauvoir, it would not have been possible for her to explain that the core of the
racist ideology, in spite of the appearances at the time, and of what the official
definition of racism seemed to imply, was not the biological Darwinian or pseudoDarwinian concept of evolution and natural selection transferred from the Human
species to the races or varieties within the Human species, but was a deeper concept of
nature or natural difference, that was in fact already operating within the field of culture
and history, as could be illustrated by the case of Gobineau and other theoreticians of
the war of races, and for which the biological concepts only provided a scientific
legitimacy after the event. Guillaumins thesis was therefore that culture (and also
ethnicity) becomes an equivalent and a substitute for race after the more or less
complete disqualification of the biological discourse of race, as illustrated both by the
persistence of old colonial prejudices in the name of the cultural differences between
the West and the East, the North and the South, and above all the development of the
new racism targeting immigrant populations such as Arabs in Europe or Hispanics in
the U.S. in the name of their cultural difference. But this could take place only
because culture itself can work exactly in the same way as nature, or is just another name
for nature, or even because cultural difference was the originary model for the
naturalization of nature itself.
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But this kind of argument, which has undoubtedly helped in interpreting the
metonymies of racism (its changes of name and language), and above all has set the
agenda for the program of comparative deconstructions of the essentialism of raceculture and the essentialism of sex-gender (including their possible conflicts), also
illuminates the aporias of the reversal of the idea of difference. An intellectual
challenge like Paul Gilroys work, since There aint no Black in the Union Jack until The
Black Atlantic and the last book with the significant title Against Race, systematically
develops the idea that difference cannot become enclosed within the boundaries of
racial typologies, or that it cannot become totally naturalized, both because the
geography of the distinction of races always already was migratory and diasporic, and
because the logic of cultural innovation is hybridization, an idea that converges with
the lessons of the minoritarian current of post-colonial anthropology, already there in
the works of Bastide or Leiris. This is a progressive, and to a large extent, a convincing
move. But there is a difficulty, which emerges both when one asks why the name race
remains practically, i.e. subjectively, from within the diversity itself, the general name
of the most significant diversity, the one that resists reduction to equivalent
interpretations of the same human universal models, the one that involves a resistance,
absolutely speaking. Or perhaps it is not the name race, but it is the name colour:
colour which is one of the most telling metonymies of race could become the metaphor
of difference within difference, but it is also the instrument of a new objectification of
differences, which is not finite but infinite, not closed, but open, on the model of the
market. United Colours of Benetton (and others). Nobody knows what a colour is,
where it begins and where it ends, how many different colors there are, but differences of
colour (perhaps we should say the heterogeneity of color, the otherness of colour) are a
pattern or a grid for self-identifications which converges with the most reified patterns
of communication and commodification of individual behaviours. And there is a
similar difficulty which emerges when there are no longer group differences, nor
types including sexual types which are imposed by the arbitrariness of power, but
only individual differences and singularities (although I would not swear that this is the
dominant situation). An assertion of singularity, differing from any type, is an ethical
imperative which escapes the essentialist categorizing of humans, but it is also, so it
seems, the result of what Foucauldians would call bio-political and bio-economic
processes, which associate infinite individualization with social control, therefore at
least the possibility of some radical exclusions: exclusion from risky professions, or
exclusion from procreation, from adopting children, etc.
I want now to carry on, albeit more briefly, a similar discussion concerning the paradoxes
of the category of otherness. They are in a sense more evident, and perhaps easier to explain,
but certainly no less important practically. Just as I have used Guillaumin as my main
reference concerning difference, I will start my discussion of otherness by recalling the
demonstration of Edward Said in Orientalism and related essays. As we all know, and we
have all learnt immensely from that, and we keep observing the practical relevance of these
analyses in current political conjunctures, Saids analyses combined (1) a creative extension
of the notion of power-knowledge structures from the field of intra-European micro-politics
to the field of global macro-politics, or geo-politics, (2) a demonstration of the strategic
importance in the construction of the European hegemony, later the Euro-American
hegemony in the area that stretches from Maghreb to India and Afghanistan of a single
academic discipline, philology, or a group of disciplines centered on philology, and (3) a
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demonstration of the fact that the philological object, so to speak, called Orient, both
continuously anticipated the emergence of the object of domination, even if it received
practical and moral impulse from the development of the European conquest, which
commissioned the investigation on the Oriental mind, subsidized the missions, filled the
schools and the museums, rewarded the experts with positions and prestige, etc., and
continuously broadened the reception of imperialism, by associating philology,
archaeology, history of religions and civilizations, etc., with elements of popular culture
and the most arcane elite culture, the novel and poetry, film and criticism, pornography
and eroticism, of which the images of Orient, i.e. the Oriental Other(s), became and
remains an essential ingredient, if not the essential ingredient. All are elements which can
account for the fact that, in Saids words, a latent Orientalism survives the
transformations of the old imperialist structure and, conversely, is laying the grounds for
subsequent imperial or imperialist episodes, where the place and the characters of the
would be enemy is marked in advance, as it were.
Saids theory is controversial, in the best sense, as we know. I am not going to enter this
debate in its generality, but I want to recall one or two striking aspects. What strikes me
first is the fact that, while closely associating his detailed account of the creation of
Orient as the (essential) Other of the West, an entirely constructed Otherness admittedly,
with a most violent configuration of racial divide, the divide between imperial races
and subject races, which can be read literally in the pages of Renan as in the reports
of Lord Cromer, Said also provides the most convincing demonstration that there is a
racist thought, therefore that racism does think, and is anything but a passive, stupid
set of prejudices deprived of meaning within the major stream of culture. As a
consequence a thought experiment which suppresses Orientalist ideas also suppresses
culture, in the sense of Bildung, in the history of the West. Orient is not only a fiction
and an image, it is a thought category, which deserves analytical elaboration. The
potentialities and the difficulties of this idea emerge, as we know, when this model of the
constructed Otherness becomes generalized outside the main historical, geographical
and cultural domain where it was illustrated by Said, such as the domain of the Far
East or the domain of Africa in particular. There are parallel elements there, either on
the side of popular exoticism or on the side of learned disciplines (with ethnography
possibly substituting philology), but there are also deep differences in the way
Orientalist discourse displays the qualities of an elaborate racist thinking. An
important aspect of the argument through which Said analyses the construction of the
essential Other is the fact that this Other is constructed not at the level of a simple
stranger, in the sense in which descriptions of nationalism involve an analyses
of antithetic characteristics granted to the national community or the us and the
foreign/enemy communities or the them, but at the level of another completely different set
of human values, which can be called a civilization, and which towers above national
differences just as a deep antinomy in the very orientation of human evolution would
tower above singular episodes in the history of nations. Now this towering universality
of the civilizational divide in Saids analysis can be named only through the association
of different names or signifiers, the two most important of them being Orient and
Islam, which sometimes appear as equivalent, sometimes at a tension with one another,
a tension that can be subsumed under the enigmatic philological artifact of the
Semites and Semitism which allowed the Europeans to fancy themselves as Aryans.
Such categories of differentiation and antagonism between the Self and the Other in
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the field of civilization never only refer to languages and races, they also refer to the
religious realm, particularly the disputed legacy of monotheism, however secularized
you imagine it, and they confer a disturbing complexity upon the topography of
Selfhood and Otherness, so to speak: inasmuch as we are speaking of an essential Other,
who is not only an adversary but embodies a negation of ones moral and esthetic and
intellectual values, an Other who, at the same time, in the most contradictory manner,
has to be constructed as a passive object of representation, study, dissections,
classifications, and an active subject of threats, or simply of an alternative path to
civilization and salvation (as beautifully displayed by Kipling in his novel Kim, itself
beautifully commented by Said, always one of my favourites), in this sense not a thing
but an uncanny double, the Other is not really or not purely exterior. It is also interior,
constitutive of oneself. Without this otherness, there would be no possibility of
civilizing oneself.
Now this topographic complexity has to be completed through another remark. We
would certainly agree that, in such a construction, the Other is essentially imaginary.
Said is very insistent on this. He is less clear, however, or less consistent on another
issue, which is not without political consequences. Does imaginary mean that the
Other is a pure fiction, a pure projection of the Western mind upon Orientals who
cant help it, who are entirely left outside of the picture that is supposed to picture
them, or is it the case that within this imaginary frame an actual encounter does take
place, conflictual to be sure, but also in a sense real, which would imply that the real
others also somehow contribute to the construction of the idea of Otherness, albeit in a
subaltern place, but which can involve irreducible difference? And which would also
possibly account for the fact that the non-oriental others can react to their being
represented as Orientals by the hegemonic discourse, resume and transform or invert
the characteristics of Orientality. Interestingly, it is when Said comments on the most
ambivalent and self-critical varieties of European Orientalism, the poetry of Goethe or
the theology of Massignon, that he most clearly implies that the imaginary of which the
idea of Orient is the product, contradictorily combines a real encounter (if only an
encounter with real texts, with the writing of the Other) and a denial of the reality of the
encounter, indeed of its very possibility. Or, to put it in Althusserian terms, that it
combines recognition with a misrecognition, each taking place within the limits and in the
language of the other.
All these elements point in the same direction. They clearly indicate what in fact any
intelligent reader of Said (and I think I could say the same about other theorists of
essential Otherness, with due qualifications) has always already understood, namely the
fact that the construction of the Other is the construction of an alienated Self, where all
the properties attributed to the Other are inversions and distortions of those vindicated
for oneself, where indeed the Self is nothing but the Others Other, whose identity and
stability is permanently asserted and secured (in the imaginary) through the
representation of an essential Other, or an essentialized Other, whose identity in
this respect arrives from the Other in inverted form. So the construction of the Oriental Other
was also always about the construction of a common Self of the West, or the Western
identity, or the Western-Christian-Democratic-Universalist identity, which is itself
anything but coherent, through the accumulation of its negations projected onto a
single collective body of peoples and religions and races, where they are perceived as
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negated and ignored, in a paradoxical combination of recognition of actual differences


and misrecognition of their own singular history. Now the figure of the Others Other,
which is the ultimate result and the latent goal of any deconstruction of Otherness as a
disciplinary invention of imperialism, and this is indeed where I wanted to arrive myself, is
itself full of endless paradoxes. One of them has to do clearly with the fact that the
discourse which deconstructs the Oriental imaginary, more generally the imaginary of
Otherness, can be located neither on the side of the Self nor on the Side of the Other, is neither
occidental nor oriental, since it refuses this symmetry, but is also not occupying a
transcendent place, speaking a transcendent language referring to the ideal situation
which would take place outside and before the projection of the Other, in the realm of a
given universality. Universality itself has to be constructed; it can exist only as a counterconstruction, not of the Self versus the Other, but of something like translation. Therefore
it can be located only in a performative manner within the critical practice which assumes
the imaginary of Otherness as its starting point and struggles to unravel the processes of
power-knowledge through which it was produced, thus re-establishing the primacy of the
real encounter, however violent and unequal, over its fantastic denials. One of the names
of this displacement of the displacement, this paradoxical secondary location within the
real point de fuite that the projection of the Other at the same time implies and escapes, in
Said, is exile. But where is exile? Everywhere and nowhere. And who speaks the language
of exile? Probably not civilizations, not states, not academias, not disciplines, or only
partially and momentarily. The language of exile, or constructed universality, which
deconstructs every possibility of essentializing the Other in order perhaps to otherize
what is essential, if I may say so, is utopian in the strict sense.
Let me finish with some considerations on exclusion, the third of my anthropological
categories, as I said before, although I have practically exhausted my time. Exclusion,
or better said internal exclusion, is perhaps the most frequently and most generally used of
these categories today when it is a question of understanding the transformations
of racism, especially when an understanding of the relationship between the processes
of globalization and the various forms of new racism targeting the victims of this
process is at stake. These victims can include a very wide range of socio-cultural
groups, from migrants and refugees, the basis of the new global proletariat mainly
recruited in the South, but also nourished by impoverishment in the North, to the
targets of the forms of extreme violence, genocides and other forms of mass
extermination who are themselves very often heirs and survivors of other historical
genocides. And the relevance of the category of internal exclusion, which has been
repeatedly proposed as a common structural feature of all traditional forms of racism which
survives their institutional critique and keeps producing discrimination, stigmatization
of groups and preferential violence, comes from the fact that globalization as such has,
at least in principle, no exterior, a basic characteristic that it derives from its capitalistic
market basis, and which is only reinforced by the working of political boundaries as
mainly instruments of security and control of the flows of populations with absolutely
unequal status and rights. In such a global space you cannot have external places for
Otherness, you can only have ubiquitous limbos where those who are neither
assimilated and integrated nor immediately eliminated, are forced to remain.
But the model of internal exclusion, which is, I admit, a powerful instrument for the
understanding of the general anthropological effects of the modern structures of definition and
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control of the world population, is itself anything but simple. In particular, it refers implicitly
to a model of inclusion in Hegelian language, which not by chance is acquiring a new
relevance and becomes adapted to the recreation of political philosophy in the Global Age,
one would say recognition which is only apparently univocal and positive. You can be
included when you are granted a status, particularly a citizenship status, that gives you the
possibility of being part of a community, particularly a political community or constituency,
or you can be included when you find yourself in the position and the capacity to act as a
social individual, claim responsibility for initiatives in the civil domain, from working to
contracting to marrying to learning or teaching, etc. These different modes of inclusion
certainly interfere, or support each other in practice, but they never entirely coincide, at least
in modern societies, not to speak of post-modern trans-national societies, and above all they do
not lead to exactly the same sort of discourses and practices of elimination when they become
inverted and reach the point of excluding those who, from inside, are deemed to be
impossible and unnecessary to include, or in the end those whose exclusion is deemed
necessary for the inclusion of all others to take place and become effective. As we know, this is
the problem and the crux of inclusions, integrations, assimilations: that they apparently are
possible only at the cost and under the condition of admitting of a reverse side, most of the
time a dark side, the side of exclusion. Just as sameness is possible only at the cost of
discarding difference, and selfhood at the cost of projecting otherness.
Because the processes of inclusion and exclusion are not univocal we are looking for
singular examples in actual history and hermeneutic models at an abstract level, and
once again we can discuss them through a critical re-reading and comparison of
certain theoretical works which have proved especially illuminating in what I have
called the meta-theory of racism, perhaps precisely because they have associated in a
remarkable manner concrete inquiries on singular histories, and the elaboration of
anthropological categories. I am thinking particularly of the works of Hannah Arendt
in The Origins of Toralitarianism and the various afterwords to this great book, and Michel
Foucault in Discipline and Punish and now even more the series of contemporary lectures
at the Colle`ge de France posthumously published under the titles The Abnormals and
Society must be defended. It is certainly not by chance that they are now more and more
frequently combined particularly in elaborations dealing with an enlarged notion of
what Foucault would call bio-power, of which racism seems at the same time to be a
specific historical realization, and an extreme result, where the bio-political processes
become inverted and transformed into necro-politics (the word of Achille Mbembe). I
dont want to explore this hypothesis of a fusion of Arendts and Foucaults genealogies
of the racial or totalitarian State, however, but rather, and in a telegraphic manner,
indicate why I find it useful to make parallel readings of their works, in order to
emphasize the tensions that inhabit the idea of internal exclusion.
What is strikingly similar in Arendt and Foucault (and probably not by chance,
although Foucault carefully avoids any reference to Arendt, even when he is
commenting on the same historical sequences), is the fact that neither of them believes
that processes of mass extermination, or more generally elimination, ever were possible
in history, especially in Modern history, and especially from within States and
Societies, without their victims being so to speak prepared for elimination, i.e. progressively
and institutionally marked as potential, future victims, and collectively pushed into a social
symbolic corner where they acquired the status of living corpses, or masses of
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individuals who are neither completely alive nor yet, already dead. This is certainly the most
shocking and embarrassing aspect of the processes of extermination and elimination
that characterize Modernity, because it takes place within the realm and the time of
legality and normality, because it is associated with forms of rationality that we believe
are inseparable from civilization, and because it is open to repetition. Both Foucault
and Arendt agree that this preparation for elimination, we might also say, anticipating
its philosophical diversity, this process of election of the victim and selection of its proprieties, is
associated in Modern Europe (during the 19th and the 20th centuries) with the use of
the category of race, although they dont define race the same way, or they dont
choose the same aspect in the racist discursive formation to explain how individuals
and groups are separated from the community or singled out within the society: in Arendt it is the
antagonistic scheme of the war of races, concentrated on the figure of the antagonism
between Semites (practically: Jews) and Aryans by political Anti-Semitism, that is
prevalent, leading to a definition of the marked victim as superfluous person; in
Foucault it is the medical and disciplinary scheme of degeneracy and the alleged
threat against the quality of the population, its reproductive capacities, its moral and
mental strength, whose generalized application from bourgeois societies to socialist
totalitarian regimes leads to the constitution of a category of the abnormal, or the
physiologically and socially dangerous individual, where the criminal, psychiatric and
social-political categorizations typically merge. Both Arendt and Foucault, who write
in their own manner long genealogies ending with singular events, insist on the fact
that a preparation, which can be explained or at least interpreted in a causal manner, is
not an acting out, an actual process of elimination, or mass elimination, which requires
a political supplement, a mutation of the political. Without preparation, you cannot
have elimination, but with the preparation, you still dont have the elimination itself,
only its conditions of possibility.
Where Arendt and Foucault differ, of course, is about the kind of totality within which
and from which social aliens or interior enemies are internally excluded, and therefore
also about the phenomenology of the exclusion, which includes its institutional
modality and the identification of its targets. Arendt, as we know, locates this process
mainly at the level of the State, insisting on the transformation of the historical NationState into an imperialist State, and on the creation of Stateless individuals who can
then become the victims within the European States themselves of the kind of
exterminist techniques which, initially, were invented and developed in the outer
space, in the course of the expansion of the colonial powers, after they have been
deprived of their right to have rights, or their institutional access to the Human
Condition. Whereas Foucault locates this process in the definition of anthropological
norms of sociability, even micro-sociability, which involve not only moral and sexual
conformity, but more generally the whole control of the social construction of the
body, and whose reverse side are the daily practices of suppression and enclosure of
deviant behaviours, the micro-fascisms of the total institutions, as Deleuze would have
it, which in certain circumstances can gather and become concentrated in the very
practice of governmentality or social regulation. We could elaborate at length on the
complementarity and possible crossover of these two models, which not by chance,
certainly, reproduce a classical antithesis of political community and social normativity,
Vergemeinschaftung and Vergesellschaftung, Weber and Durkheim, sovereign exclusion and
anomy, etc. But I think that, for our present purpose, it is more interesting to
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emphasize the fact that they have generalized the idea of racist discrimination leading
to extermination by displaying two significantly distinct and disturbingly parallel
patterns of the logic of collective identification, which implies that the individual can
become identified to others within the totality of the community or the society, can
become part of a symbolic us or an anonymous one, only if another part,
represented at the same time as essential and inexistent, or threatening and
unnecessary, is eliminated, either physically or socially, or both. And ultimately, if
this part which is also a non-part, which we can call the alien, is also hunted and
chased within each individual self, so that individual subjects become indiscernible
from their collective identities. These processes, I repeat, are strikingly similar at a
formal level, but they are entirely dissimilar in their causes, their rhythms and legal
procedures, their modes of execution, and they do not require from the governments
and the public opinions the same kind of representations of the alien part of
humankind, or the same kind of education. There remains a tension, which can also
mean that, if we take these analyses as models to interpret the coming phenomena of
internal exclusion within the global sphere, call it Empire or otherwise, we have
different possibilities. I am not sure that this is more reassuring.
To conclude in one word: racism in our contemporary experience, which is both
political and theoretical, I would dare to say philosophical, has proved more central
than ever, perhaps because it has also proved more resistant and mutable than any of
the scholars and political leaders who coined the name and defined the concept half a
century ago would have imagined in their worst nightmares. It is not only central for
politics and social life, it is central for any reflection on the various modes of
interweaving subjectivities, domination and collective violence, which we could also
call anthropology. But in none of these aspects is it any longer likely to remain isolated
from other processes of conflictual socialization, which means that an essence of racism
is lost for ever. Difference, Otherness, Exclusion are categories which name at the same
time this centrality and this impurity. They are now open to their own transformation.

Notes
1

A Public Lecture delivered at Columbia


University, New York, on March 22, 2004, on the
invitation of the Department of English and the
Center for Comparative Literature and Society.
2
Since we are in America, allow me to simply
mention the twin names of Du Bois and Franz Boas.

Colette Guillaumin, Racism, Sexism, Power,


and Ideology (London: Routledge, 1995). See also
her earlier book, now reprinted with complements:
Lideologie raciste. Gene`se et langage actuel (Paris:
Gallimard, 1972).

Etienne Balibar is Professor of French, English and Comparative Literature at the


University of California, Irvine. His publications include Masses, Classes, Ideas: Studies on
Politics and Philosophy Before and After Marx (New York: Routledge, 1993), We, the People of
Europe?: Reflections on Transnational Citizenship (Translation/ Transnation) (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2003), and Politics and the Other Scene (London: Verso,
2002) co-authored with Daniel Hahn.

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