The Process of Othering in Public Organizations

Søren Obed Madsen, Steen Vallentin

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


The concept of othering is used to describe processes of distancing, stereotyping, alienation and dehumanization in social relations. While studies of othering tend to favour issues such as race, gender and sexuality, this paper provides a conceptual analysis of othering as a product of economic modes of governance and management in public sector organizations. Othering is thus used as an analytical lens to problematize how New Public Management and economic motivation theory cast public sector employees as self-interested and opportunistic ‘knaves’ and legitimize uses of control, monitoring and economic incentives as extrinsic drivers of human behaviour. It shows how marketization of social relations in public organizations can have negative motivational effects on public employees that are driven by a public ethos that transcends economic rationality – and how the notion of othering can be used to shed new light on this issue. While extant research tends to associate othering with pejorative meaning, the theoretical contribution of this paper is to provide a more balanced account of othering as a matter of not only self-other distantiation, but also self-other identification. Apart from seeing othering as a form of social dysfunction, we argue that it can also have functional value. Indeed, othering is an inevitable part of language and how we relate to others. Othering as such is unavoidable. Crude and destructive forms of othering, however, are not. The paper argues that processes of othering can take other, more sophisticated and appreciative forms.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2018
Number of pages35
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2018: Improving Lives - Chicago, United States
Duration: 10 Aug 201814 Aug 2018
Conference number: 78


ConferenceThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited States
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