Deconstructing Hospitality: Just How Welcoming Are We? Part 3.

“You’re probably surprised to find us so inhospitable,” said the man, “but hospitality isn’t a custom here, and we don’t need any visitors.”

‘If this quotation from Kafka’s Castle seems strange to us, it is because we cannot believe that there is a culture, a society or “a form of social connection without a principle of hospitality. But what is left of this principle of hospitality today, or ethics in general, when fences are erected at the borders, or even “hospitality” itself is considered a crime?’

(Gerasimos Kakoliris)


How hospitable are you? Let us know how you feel about this subject in the comments box below.


‘Trump’s Wall.’

Being hospitable has traditionally been seen as a noble quality, an indicator of a generous and civilised culture. However, this image of hospitality has been eroded and, in our contemporary society, the forbidding face of exclusion, racism and inhospitable attitudes is showing itself.

What is lacking in all this is the quality of empathy. Much of this approach entails a ‘failure of empathy,’ discussed in a previous post. Instead, an ‘us and them’ attitude often prevails.

Newspaper headlines such as the following reflect this:

WHEN IN ROME’ All immigrants must be forced to take language classes if they don’t speak English on arrival in UK, MPs say’ (The Sun 5.1.17)

Britain’s migration revolution: Home Secretary Sajid Javid unveils the biggest immigration reform for decades – vowing to end EU free movement, give no preference to European workers and insist that firms try to hire Brits first (Daily Mail 1.10.18)

Strong border control is a moral obligation




Obviously, as history shows, such attitudes are age-old. As if in prophetic response to this Derrida asks:


‘That is where the question of hospitality begins: must we ask the foreigner to understand us, to speak our language, in all the senses of this term, in all its possible extensions, before being able and so as to be able to welcome him into our country? If he was already speaking our language, with all that that implies, if we already shared everything that is shared with a language, would the foreigner still be a foreigner and could we speak of asylum or hospitality in regard to him?’ (Derrida)



Should we realistically expect immigrants who do not speak English to learn our language when they arrive? If so, is this because we cannot abide people who are not like us? Perhaps there is a sense that speaking our language would  make immigrants more like ‘us’, more understandable, less ‘other?’

Yet can we ever ‘understand’ how hard it might be for some to arrive in a new country with a ‘strange’ culture and have to learn a foreign way of speaking? If we have not experienced being a refugee, can we even imagine how awful it would be to feel so dispossessed?

Arrested refugees - Fylakio Detetntion Center, Thrace, Evros, Greece.

Wikimedia Commons

In the U.S., immigrants were assaulted because they were overheard speaking their own language.

It may, indeed, ideally be easier in some ways if immigrants were able to speak English. However, there are so many other pressures on immigrants; the complexities and commitment of language learning may be unmanageable and unrealistic. Perhaps we could find it within ourselves to welcome distressed and traumatised people here without imposing further stipulations on them.

However, even the most hospitable people will have limits. Derrida postulates an extreme position in his deconstruction of the notion of hospitality:

‘… absolute hospitality requires that I open up my home and that I give not only to the foreigner (provided with a family name, with the social status of being a foreigner, etc.), but to the absolute, unknown, anonymous other, and that I give place to them, that I let them come, that I let them arrive, and take place in the place I offer them, without asking of them either reciprocity (entering into a pact) or even their names.’

Derrida knows that this is degree of hospitality, this total altruism, is an impossibility, yet he believes he has defined pure hospitality in its full meaning and this is important.

His deconstruction of the term down to its ‘purest’ form makes us think; he does not offer solutions, he is aware there are no answers to this paradoxical issue, but perhaps it might encourage us to stretch previous hardened boundaries.

He is aware that it is impossible to offer hospitality without it involving even a modicum of power and control. We cannot truly and totally anonymously or altruistically give to another, but his deconstruction reminds us that perhaps we might be able to try harder:


Conditional hospitality is not ‘true’ hospitality because it is given only on expectation of a return or offered out of decorum and therefore without responsibility. Unconditional hospitality, which is the ‘truest’ hospitality, is at the same time impossible because in practice one can always be more generous, more welcoming and give more of oneself and one’s home until there is complete self-effacement.



Global Justice Now. GJN Banner. Flickr.

Could you open up your home and offer hospitality to a stranger or have you already done so? Please share your views and experiences in the comments below. Thanks! Linda.

How Can We Learn to be Really Hospitable? Thinking Other, Becoming Other.



‘Let us say yes to who or what turns up, before any determination, before any anticipation, before any identification, whether or not it has to do with a foreigner, an immigrant, an invited guest, or an unexpected visitor, whether or not the new arrival is the citizen of another country, a human, animal, or divine creature, a living or dead thing, male or female.’

(Derrida,J. and Dufourmantelle A.)

What is hospitality? It is surely about welcoming another into our space. Yet we may also ask ‘How is it that it is our space? And why?’

We share the world with others; it is not ours to own or claim. Thinking that we ‘own’ our country, or our national identity, exclusively, is a myth. Each of us is a blend of the other, a melange of races and cultures:

‘Ever since the first Jute, the first Saxon, the first Roman and the first Dane leaped off their boats and planted their feet on British mud, we have been a mongrel nation. Our roots are neither clean nor straight; they are impossibly tangled.’


In effect, we are all immigrants. Seeing others as alien, as strangers, is a result of insecurity and bigotry, and it produces scapegoats.

I have, in a previous post  mentioned Kearney’s excellent book Strangers, Gods and Monsters. He describes the creation of scapegoats as a way of ridding oneself of aspects of the personality that may feel ‘bad.’

1024px-William_Holman_Hunt_-_The_ScapegoatThe Scapegoat. William Holman hunt.

‘Most human cultures have been known to deploy myths of sacrifice to scapegoat strangers. Holding certain aliens responsible for the ills of society, the scapegoaters proceed to isolate or eliminate them. This sacrificial strategy furnishes communities with a binding identity, that is, with the basic sense of who is included (us) and who is excluded (them). So the price to be paid for the construction of the happy tribe is often the ostracizing of some outsider: the immolation of ‘the other’ on the altar of the alien.’ (Kearney)

Instead of thinking in terms of creating outsiders and building fictional divisions, it is important to contemplate commonality. We need to make boundaries between self and another more elastic, translate across vernaculars, offer greeting, help, welcome, invitation. We need to practise creating spaces to meet, rather than devising methods of exclusion.


The Good Samaritan.  Balthasar van Cortbemde

How could we learn to create an encountering, a kinship? How can we ‘think other’ and what might this mean?

Thinking other begins with changing attitudes, shifting towards dissolving boundaries between people rather than erecting them. Then one might be able to experience how feels to de-territorialize, to think ourselves into the other’s being, to somehow become other, believing that this will create harmony, rather than discord.

The hospitality of which Derrida speaks in the quotation at the beginning of this post links powerfully with the idea of becoming-other. (Deleuze) This mutually beneficial process involves an awareness that the boundaries between self and other can be regarded as permeable, that we can find new ways of entering into another’s world and inviting them into ours. This is doubtlessly a highly creative endeavour, a charting of new territory, an advancing into a potentially productive and yet unknown area:

…the problem is not to direct or methodically apply a thought which pre-exists in principle and in nature, but to bring into being that which does not exist…..To think is to create- there is no other creation- but to create is first of all to engender ‘thinking’ in thought.

Becoming other, according to Deleuze, involves thinking thoughts that are studied, analysed and original and which represent a radical diversion from fixed ways of thinking. (Semetsky). This process accords the other intense respect, care and consideration, confirming their identity and bringing out the ‘potential best in both oneself and another person, group or nation.’ (Semetsky)

Furthermore, this sense of hospitality, this creative way of thinking and being may also, as Derrida points out, be extended to all species, whether human or non-human. This fact inspired me to explore ways of thinking not only about human interaction but also about the animal; to think of the animal not as ‘the other’, but as ‘an other.’

Thinking of non-human animals in this way challenges some ingrained ways of seeing them. Next week’s post explores ways in which we might think of animals as different from us, but still sentient beings, sharing our world.