Dismantling the framing of difference

Debunking Deviance discussion
Debunking Deviance discussion

By Boniswa Matiwane, Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management student

The second day of Gender Week ended in an insightful conversation titled 'Debunking Deviance', facilitated by Dr Lindsay Kelland, Senior Lecturer at the Allan Gray Centre for Learning Ethics (AGCLE).

Dr Kelland opened the platform by showing resources that dealt with the challenges of being products of deviance. The various resources were short and thought-provoking. They paved the way for a learning experience among attendees that was unique in its nature.

“Talk with one another,” Dr Kelland told attendees. These words set the tone for the evening, as various individuals openly and respectfully educated each other on the chains that entangle the concept of deviance.

The conversation centred on reconceptualising how we think about each other and how we perceive ‘difference’. At the core of the dialogue was the notion of debunking how individuals interact with one another as attendees began to unpack the various ways of being.

Dr Kelland spoke to how the Zulu greeting (Sawubona) is a critical point of analysis. This, she noted, is perhaps a pertinent vantage point. The greeting directly translated means ‘I see you’. “What would it mean if we could recognise one another not as the demonised ‘other’ but in as individuals in different states of being?”

At the heart of it all, what we conceptualise as being ‘normal’ sets up the idea of us of seeing each other as threatening. “This is perhaps where the underlying violence begins to find weight,” she proposed. 

Differences in being are understood in relation to ourselves, as we remain in the centre. ‘Others’ who are different to our way of being, are then considered to be deviants. Dr Kelland highlighted key theoretical frameworks that Feminist thinkers have raised, such as the concept of arrogant perception versus loving perception, where “arrogant perception” is to view others as lesser than oneself.

Another speaker said that there is tremendous danger in the commonality of framing ‘difference’ as being alien to us and therefore threatening.  This becomes a violent process of dehumanising and demonising each other.

Dr Kelland asked the audience to consider what it would mean for us to see each other differently, thus opening us up to other ways of being.

One participant suggested that the greatest problem lies in the institutions and systems which we have to exist in. These systems, they suggested, shape our conceptions of what is normal and appropriate.

Reflecting on movements such as #FeesMustFall and #RUReferenceList, audience members questioned what these movements really meant, as it appears deviance came at a high cost. What happens when deviants opt to take a stand? These movements were in themselves signifiers of instances where deviants were dehumanised and further marginalised by the ideas that make up existing structures.

Ultimately, agency presented itself to be a sort of solution to the issues of othering. One participant stated, “The journey to understanding difference requires a collaborative effort.”

Some of the practical ideas people raised included establishing gender-neutral facilities on campus, residences that are co-ed and eradicating the binary male or female option on application forms.

One of the members of the audience suggested that it is also important to acknowledge the journey of consciousness that this young democracy has travelled thus far. “We need to remember to be patient,” they said.