Monday, December 22, 2014

Georg Simmel: The Stranger

By the notion of "The Stranger" we are not talking about the person who is here in the community today and gone tomorrow. We are talking, according to George Simmel in The Sociology of Georg Simmel translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff, about "the person who comes today and stays tomorrow."
[H]is position in the group is determined, essentially, by the fact that he has not belonged to it from the beginning, that he imports qualities into it, which do not and cannot stem from the group itself.
We are not talking about people living on another planet; we are talking about people living in the community who are not quite of it. The stranger's relation to the community "involves both being outside it and confronting it."

Back to start: The Unknown Sociologist.

The archetypal stranger is the trader, for he brings "products that originate outside the group" and probably lives outside it. Because trade sees opportunities that the local person does not, it is suitable for the stranger and suitable for a group like the European Jews, and the stranger is typically not "an owner of soil." This status alone makes him a stranger.

His activity in intermediary trade and finance also evokes mobility, one who comes in contact with many individuals and becomes less "organically connected" with "kin, locality, and occupation". This mobility and extensive contact also creates objectivity, for "the objective individual is bound by no commitments which could prejudice his perception, understanding, and evaluation of the given." This objectivity, and standing apart, is often abused by persons wishing to blame someone for an uprising or other social disaster.

We relate to the stranger through general features such as nation, occupation. But with our intimates with more specific qualities. This is notable in erotic relationships, where "lovers think that there has never been a love like theirs". But estrangement "usually comes where this uniqueness vanishes from the relationship."

The peculiar situation of the stranger is illustrated by the medieval Beede in German cities. For the Christian this tax "changed with the changes in his fortune" while for the Jew it was fixed as a head tax. Locals were treated as individuals; strangers were all alike.

The stranger is a member of the community; yet he is held at a distance. There is in the stranger a peculiar tension between "nearness and distance."

Next: The Metropolis and Mental Life.

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