On the condition of being a stranger, I draw here on Georg Simmel's description of the stranger as a social type (1908). In order to determine typologies he focuses on forms of social interaction and contextualizes sets of observations within systems of meanings. If one considers opposed categories as constitutive of the social order, Simmel's central analytical interest is oriented toward sociological dualism in terms of conflicts and contrasts between the opposed categories. Levine explains in the introduction to Simmel's sociology (1971), "The conflict between established forms and vital needs produces a perpetual tension, a tension which is nevertheless the source of the dialectical development or replacement of social structures and cultural forms throughout history." Thus Simmel understanding of individuality in a dialectical manner applies also to the stranger, as a dynamic process directed toward the accomplishment of an ideal. This ideal is endogenously determined by the capabilities manifested in each individual existence.
Based on Simmel's theory of forms as synthesis of opposites, the stranger is at the same time in a state of detachment and attachment to a place. The sociological form of the stranger is similar to the position of the outside observer of places. The outside observer is detached from, but interested in the object of study, s/he is part of the present spatial experience, but is involved in the long-term life of the place only through recollection.
"The stranger will thus not be considered here in the usual sense of the term, as the wanderer who comes today and goes tomorrow, but rather as the man who comes today and stays tomorrow – the potential wanderer, so to speak, who, although he has gone no further, has not quite got over the freedom of coming and going. He is fixed within a certain spatial circle – or within a group whose boundaries are analogous to spatial boundaries – but his position within it is fundamentally affected by the fact that he does not belong in it initially and that he brings qualities into it that are not, and cannot be, indigenous to it. … The state of being a stranger … is a specific form of interaction. … The stranger is an element of the group itself … whose membership within the group involves both being outside it and confronting it” (Simmel 1971, pp.143-144).
In context, the stranger embodies the foreigner (Sennett 2002), the outside observer (in anthropological field research), and the other... and this blog will continue on the similarities and differences of these social roles :o)