The Stranger (sociology)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Stranger is an essay in sociology by Georg Simmel, originally written as an excursus to a chapter dealing with sociology of space, in his book Soziologie.[1] In this essay, Simmel introduced the notion of "the stranger" as a unique sociological category. He differentiates the stranger both from the “outsider” who has no specific relation to a group and from the “wanderer” who comes today and leaves tomorrow. The stranger, he says, comes today and stays tomorrow. The stranger is a member of the group in which he lives and participates and yet remains distant from other – “native” – members of the group. In comparison to other forms of social distance and difference (such as class, gender, and even ethnicity) the distance of the stranger has to do with his “origins.” The stranger is perceived as extraneous to the group and even though he is in constant relation to other group members; his “distance” is more emphasized than his “nearness.”[2] As one subsequent interpreter of the concept put it, the stranger is perceived as being in the group but not of the group.[3]

In the excursus, Simmel briefly touches upon the consequences of occupying such a unique position for the stranger as well as the potential effects of the presence of the stranger on other group members. Most notably, Simmel suggests that because of their peculiar positions in the group, strangers often carry out special tasks that the other members of the group are either incapable or unwilling to carry out.[4] For example, especially in pre-modern societies, most strangers were involved in trade activities. Also, because of their distance from local factions, they might also be employed as arbitrators and even judges.

The concept of the stranger has found relatively wide usage in the subsequent sociological literature and it is utilized by many sociologists ranging from Robert Park[5] to Zygmunt Bauman.[6] Like most widely used sociological concepts, however, there has been some controversy regarding its application and interpretation.[7]


  1. ^ Simmel, Georg. (1908). Soziologie: Untersuchungen über die Formen der Vergesellschaftung. Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot. There are three English translations of Exkurs über den Fremden. The first appeared under the title “The Sociological Significance of the ‘Stranger’,” in Park, Robert E., and E. W. Burgess (1921). Introduction to the Science of Sociology. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, pp. 322–7. The second appeared in the fifth part of Kurt Wolff’s collection of Simmel’s texts (The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Translated and edited by Kurt H. Wolff. New York: The Free Press, 1950.) The third and most recent translation of the text was published in a collection edited by Donald Levine (“The Stranger.” In Georg Simmel: On Individuality and Social Forms, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, pp. 143–50)
  2. ^ Karakayali, Nedim (2009). "Social Distance and Affective Orientations". Sociological Forum. 24 (3): 538. doi:10.1111/j.1573-7861.2009.01119.x. JSTOR 40542691.
  3. ^ Wood, Margaret Mary. (1934). The Stranger: A Study in Social Relationships. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.
  4. ^ Karakayali, Nedim (2006). "The Uses of the Stranger: Circulation, Arbitration, Secrecy, and Dirt". Sociological Theory. 24 (4): 312. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9558.2006.00293.x.
  5. ^ Park, Robert E. [1928] 1967. “Human Migration and the Marginal Man.” In On Social Control and Collective Behaviour: Selected Papers, Ralph H. Turner (ed.). Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.
  6. ^ Bauman, Zygmunt. (1991). Modernity and Ambivalence. Ithaca, New York: Cornell Univ. Press, ISBN 0745612423.
  7. ^ McLemore, S. Dale (1970). "Simmel's 'Stranger': A Critique of the Concept". Pacific Sociological Review. 13 (2): 86–94. doi:10.2307/1388311. JSTOR 1388311.