Evolution of the Hydra in images

Posted on: July 14, 2021 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

Evolution of the Hydra in images

The Hydra metaphor almost demands a visual representation, and as soon as I was invited to be part of the ALNAP session I asked artist Dr. Ahmed Fadaam, my friend and colleague, to create an image for me. Over the nearly two years that I haver been working on the Hydra model Ahmed has added words and features dutifully. He is now working on a 3-d model that can morph showing the Hydra being tamed and ‘toxic’ othering changing into ‘normal’ othering. The ‘othering’ process is something I have used for years in my sociology classes, and just as the Hydra changed over the last two years so has the graphic I have used to present the idea of othering.

Throughout this blog (book) you have seen the development of both images; here they are in chronological order. See below how these ideas has morphed and deepened over the nearly two years of their existence.


The Hydra image
The Hydra image is now in its fourth version. This image was the first one created after I began preparations for the Ocyrber 2019 ALNAP conference. This was the fruit of discussions with Leah Campbell and others at ALNAP about the topic of our ‘jigsaw’ session.

Very soon after we starting using the phrase ‘privileging forces’ to describe all these ‘isms.’ In Berlin it became quickly apparent there were two more heads to be added, namely Ableism and Ageism. This version of the Hydra lasted well over a year.


After presenting the Hydra model to my sociology classes over several semesters one more head needed to be added, Anthropocentrism, this to address our species toxic relationship with the environment.

The most recent change to the image came just this summer. I was explaining the concept of ‘othering’ to my learners in Bangladesh and realized the image needed to clearly represent the idea that toxic othering is the process underlying all of the privileging forces.








Explaining ‘othering’

Here is the original image that I have used for years to illustrate in symbols the basic idea of ethnocentrism. When I began seeing all of the ‘isms’ as being related, this explanation served well.


This second image adds the words ‘differentiation’ and ‘stratification’, concepts I feel are critical to a deeper understanding of the process.

Adding the word “Othering” as a title was an overdue step.

This summer while teaching learners in Bangladesh the term ‘othering’ they found the distinction between ‘normal’ and ‘toxic’ othering to be useful.






















Packing even more information into the graphic, a previously implied phrase was added, “The core process that generates privileging forces of the Hydra” underneath the title.
























The most recent iteration adds the critical dimension of power, a fundamental point that generates much discussion.

Final thoughts
Just as with the rest of this book, I am sure that both the image of the Hydra and the graphic explaining ‘othering’ will continue to be improved. Constant critical feedback from my students, humanitarian friends and colleagues, and casual readers is always not only welcome but is fundamentally central to this journey.


Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying the humanitarian aid and development ecosystem for nearly two decades and in 2016 published 'Aid Worker Voices'. He recently published his second and third books related to the humanitarians sector with 'Confronting Toxic Othering' published in 2021 and 'Dispatches from the Margins of the Humanitarian Sector' in 2022.

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