Difference describes a disparity that is more than just the result of social circumstances – for example of gender, culture, class, age, or skin color. Difference, which in this context can also be understood as differentness, is furthermore the result of subjective judgments and decisions, even though both forms cannot be clearly separated. Differences arise when people are political and active beings.
A good life makes it crucial to acknowledge difference as a fundamental characteristic of human plurality, to perceive and negotiate it. Differences are an expression of abundance, because they enable people to change and to bring something new into the world, like authority, for instance. Therefore, it is shortsighted to look at differences predominantly in the context of discrimination.
To deal fruitfully with differences, it does not help much to explore the root causes – which has often been tried – when it comes to gender difference. First and foremost, it is necessary to be open to otherness, without immediately looking for references to oneself but give space to the in-between. The first step in this process is the capacity for wonder.
Today, differences between people that occur in a specific situation (women/men, white/People of Color, Christians/Muslims, and so on) are usually contextualized with the label of „diversity” to make them more easily comparable: For example the privileges granted to the one are the discriminations of the other. But since difference is also the result of subjective judgments and decisions, it is always fluid and changeable. No one can attribute a certain identity to me, based merely on my belonging to a gender, a culture, or way of life. Identity politics are explicitly not the point.
In order to understand the problem of privileges and discrimination in a concrete situation, it is not enough to focus on categories such as „race”, class, and gender. To know that a specific person is an Austrian, a lesbian, a 60-year-old saleswoman with a dark brown color of skin, does not tell us anything about who she is. If I want to learn something about that special person, I have to relate to her and see what concrete differences show up between us. Difference is usually „asymmetrical,” that is, it cannot be classified as complementarity (two ends of the same scale), antagonistic (either… or), or equal.
To avoid the dilemma between an endless expansion of social categories, from which privileges and discriminations can (and should) be derived and the necessity of a certain focus in order to prevent ending up with the banal category of ‘individual differences’, the image of the matrix is helpful. Here, social categories are certainly involved, but the focal point is the particular situation of a given individual. In addition, the image of the matrix illuminates that being part of a particular social group not only constitutes privileges and discrimination, but also offers an abundance of opportunities and resources for a good life.