Collapsing Self/Other positions: Identification through differentiation


Corresponding should be addressed to Dr Alex Gillespie, Department of Psychology, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA Scotland, UK (e-mail:


There is a widely recognized tendency for people to positively differentiate Self from Other. The present paper asks: What counter dynamic constrains this othering tendency? A phenomenon, termed identification through differentiation is presented in which the positive differentiation of Self from Other collapses in a moment of identification. This phenomenon is demonstrated and explored using quasi-naturalistic group discussions with tourists in India. Three excerpts are analysed. The first demonstrates a tourist's attempt to positively differentiate him from other tourists. The second demonstrates how such an effort can collapse in a moment of identification with the previously derogated ‘other’ tourists. The third is used to explore how issues of self-presentation complicate identification through differentiation. The discussion uses concepts from Mead (1934) and Ichheiser (1949) in order to theorize about the preconditions, interactional mechanisms and wider applicability of the phenomenon.