No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

The Stranger

The stranger is a unique social figure characterized by a blend of proximity and distance within a community. The stranger is not a transient wanderer but someone who arrives and remains. He/she maintains a sense of detachment while integrating into the group. The stranger's position is defined by not originally belonging to the community and bringing qualities from outside.

The stranger historically played a role in economic activities, particularly as a trader or dealer. In an economy dominated by local needs, a middleman becomes necessary for products from outside the group. This positions the stranger as an economic outsider and intermediary. This role often leads to the stranger's permanent settlement in the community, where they live off trade and business activities rather than primary production.

Being less attached to individual group members or biases, the stranger can engage with the group with a particular form of detachment; this leads to perceptions of neutrality and fairness. This objectivity is seen in various social dynamics, including the appointment of external judges in Italian cities to avoid local biases. The stranger's freedom from local ties allows for broader, more general relationships with group members. These relationships are based on shared human or social characteristics, but they lack the specificity and intimacy of bonds formed through shared experiences or local ties. This generality can create a sense of estrangement, even in close relationships, as the connection is perceived as less unique.
The implications of the stranger's dual proximity and distance are significant. The stranger is simultaneously an insider and outsider, a member of the group who retains a degree of separation due to their different origins or perspectives. This duality allows the stranger to fulfill roles and perform functions within the group that native members cannot, such as introducing new ideas or acting as a mediator in conflicts.

So, the stranger is a complex social figure who embodies the union of nearness and remoteness. This unique position allows the stranger to play critical roles in economic, social, and interpersonal dynamics within the community, while also highlighting the inherent tensions and contradictions in their relationships with group members.

Simmel, G. (1908), Exkurs über den Fremden, in: Soziologie, p. 685—691, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot.