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An Immigrant as a Manifestation of a Stranger

More than 100 years after Simmel’s description of the stranger, they are still present in modern societies. Moreover, labeling certain groups of the population as strangers in public discourse is more widespread than ever. A typical example of it is labor migrants and their descendants. An immigrant is an obvious manifestation of a stranger who lives among people but does not belong to them. A closer look at the individuals classified by these terms reveals that many of today’s strangers did not migrate themselves, but were born and raised in the respective countries.

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Immigrants are present in most countries but are not always accepted as part of a social or national community. According to Simmel (1950), as a social type, the stranger is connected to the group through a unique synthesis of opposites: closeness and distance. He is close to society because it shares common, impersonal qualities, such as nationality, gender, or race. But because such similarities link him to many others, the stranger is fuzzy or distant (Simmel, 1950). The peculiarity of an immigrant also lies in the fact that he is physically a part of the community and therefore shares national, social, professional characteristics with an established non-immigrant.

Nowadays, there are as many children and, in some cases, grandchildren of migrants as there are themselves. These people cannot fully integrate into the community in the sense that they are recognized as belonging to the countries that they call home and have the same opportunities that are open to their descendants (Alba & Foner, 2017, p. 2). At the same time, strangers are also often extremely vulnerable to discrimination (Simmel, 1950). Migrants in these groups usually bring insufficient education levels from their countries and take jobs at a lower degree in the advanced economies they moved to. Consequently, immigrants are modern strangers due to the vulnerability to discrimination described by Simmel.

It is noteworthy that a stranger is not the same as a complete outcast, also as immigrants. He has closeness and distance elements – he is attached but not wholly, while the social outcast is only distant (Simmel, 1950). The United States and Canada are a traditional settler society, but with significant differences, including confluence and admission policies (Alba & Foner, 2017, p. 4). However, both countries are presented as examples of successful integration (Alba & Foner, 2017, p. 4). It is not surprising given their size and importance as an immigration society, and the fact that American social scientists have spent most of their careers researching the impact of it on the country. Thus, it also supports the thesis that immigrants are strangers in the modern world.

To summarize, immigrants are best to represent the stranger in the society today because they are also close and share national, social, professional characteristics with the established non-immigrant population. Along with it, they are vulnerable to discrimination, which is also mentioned in Simmel’s formulation. In addition, this group of people, like strangers, are not complete outcasts. The future cultural, economic, and social vitality of these communities will be linked to integration into the societies, including those described as foreign to it. Therefore, the main question is how to integrate immigrants and their children to become full members of the population they now live in. Whereas the best way forward is to focus on what they and indigenous people unite, rather than what separates them.


Alba, R., & Foner, N. (2017). Strangers no more: Immigration and the challenges of integration in North America and Western Europe. Princeton University Press.

Simmel, G. (1950). The sociology of Georg Simmel. Simon and Schuster.

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