Ways of relating: hospitality and the acknowledgement of otherness

Barnett, Clive (2005). Ways of relating: hospitality and the acknowledgement of otherness. Progress in Human Geography, 29(1) pp. 5–21.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1191/0309132505ph535oa


This paper considers the relevance of the work of Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida to geography’s engagements with both mainstream moral philosophy and poststructuralist theory. This relevance lies in the way in which their work unsettles the ascription of normative value to relations of proximity and distance. Distance is usually understood to be a medium of moral harm or indifference. In contrast, Levinas presents distance as the very condition of responsibility. Grasping the significance of this argument requires an appreciation of the temporality of responsibility and responsiveness that both Levinas and Derrida emphasise. They present an alternative way of understanding the relationality of subjectivity and social processes. Through a schematic exposition of key themes in Levinas’ work, prevalent understandings of the spatiality of relations are shown to harbour their own forms of indifference and moral harm. The full effect of Levinas’ reconsideration of the value of relations between proximity and distance is bought out in Derrida’s recent writings on hospitality. For both thinkers, there is no natural geographical scene for the cultivation of responsibility. Rather, their shared focus upon temporality emphasizes the degree to which responsibility is motivated in response to the activities of others. The implication of this argument is that critical analysis should be reoriented towards practices that shape individual and collective dispositions to acknowledge the claims of others.

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