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Simmel’s Stranger vs. DuBois’ Double Consciousness

George Simmel and William DuBois have played a significant role in developing the theories of social science. Their double concepts are among the most known approaches to addressing the idea of consciousness and the stranger. The stranger represents a particular social kind, which is shaped by the inherent traits of an individual. Simmel shows various social kinds, including the miser, the poor, and the adventurer, regarding a stranger.

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The connection between a stranger and a group relies on the fusion of opposites that consist of nearness and remoteness. In contrast, DuBois’s work is perceived as a liability to society as it reflects the subjective concept of being black in America. It views a black American as the seventh son, who identifies himself through the eyes of the others’ world, signifying an unusual awareness of double consciousness. This paper analyzes the differences and similarities between the two theoretical concepts.

Simmel’s Notion of the Stranger

Simmel’s concept of the outsider embodies a certain social type in individuals. The social types are developed from the intrinsic qualities of a person influenced by others. However, there are other communal groups, including the miserable, the poor, and the adventurer, which affect the stranger’s relationship with a group. Moreover, the latter’s relationship to the set stems from the combination of the opposite’s nearness and remoteness (Appelrouth & Edles, 2016).

The outsider is an insider as long as they have similar general qualities as the group, such as race or sex. However, the stranger becomes an outsider due to their general impersonal and unique characteristics not shared with others, which makes them seen as distinct people whose character is primarily different from the group.

Nonetheless, the unique combination of being near and remote allows the stranger to be an outsider within the group. Additionally, the stranger becomes a reliable acquaintance of group participants due to their objectivity. However, Simmel does not consider the stranger to be an individual who comes and goes. He assumes that they are socialized under similar conditions as the dominants in society, though remaining an outsider.

DuBois’s Notion of Double Consciousness

In contrast, DuBois’s work, The Soul of the Black Folk, symbolizes a change in tone from sensible in his earlier work to an ardent and militant tone that sets to address race subjectively. The double-consciousness describes an individual whose identity is in two-ness, which reveals the social divisions in American society. DuBois argues that colonization and interventionism resulted in Africa’s exploitation while creating his concept of the race line (DuBois, 2014).

DuBois argues that prosperity in colonial nations comes from the darker races of the world. The identification of the color line dealt with race as an impartial population classification and as an emblematic reality. He demonstrates double consciousness when he explains that the African American was a seventh son born with a veil and gifted with a second sight where they see themselves through others’ eyes (DuBois, 2014). The double-consciousness also reflects the experiences of blacks as a marginalized group in society.

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In addition, DuBois shows that African Americans can see the communal barrier between individuals, but whites were unable to see the veil as they belong to the dominant group. He captures the complexity of blacks living in America and argues that being strangers in America does not allow them to have a true reflection of their self-consciousness as they have to see themselves through the eyes of the world (DuBois, 2017). This concept continued to be used and discussed to understand the racial cultures, societies, and literature.

Simmel’s Notion of the Stranger

Both the stranger and double consciousness are similar in that they both recognize how a person can fit in a group by some special or general characteristics. However, they both show how they can exist outside the group due to their specific character that is not rational to the dominant group. The stranger and double consciousness theory also emphasize the feeling of distinctiveness that inhibits solidarity and the formation of a united sense of identity.

This demonstrates how African Americans live outside of the dominant white community and yet must exist within the society. In both theories, the group confronts a person who lives inside and outside of the group. For instance, a stranger, black, is confronted by the dominant group, whites, to which they do not belong, yet they cannot see their racism. The African American position is shown to be related to the outsider.

However, the two theorists differ in that Simmel’s stranger is mostly positive participation, although the blacks’ marginalization in society is a definite form of oppression. He defines the stranger as both physically close but socially distant, showing that the stranger comes and stays despite not being socialized in mainstream society (Appelrouth & Edles, 2016).

Moreover, Simmel identifies several ways a stranger can benefit from their position as strangers because of being the outsider within and equally valuable members of the community. They portray certain objectivity and are expected not to judge. In contrast, double consciousness is entrenched in conflict, as African Americans in the community must find a system to unify the double-sided ways of being both African and American in a predominantly white society that perceives their race as inferior.

Simmel’s Thesis on Group Distance

Simmel introduces social distance theory where a stranger fits in some aspects, but whites alienate them due to personality differences with their group. He explains that distance is inversely related to the amount of knowledge available to the persons involved. Simmel emphasizes that the sphere of knowledge is influenced by the relationships and the participants’ self-revelations (Ritzer, 2011). This ensures that everyone reserves and maintains an area of privacy.

However, restraints are common, although not a constant aspect in all social relationships (Ritzer, 2011). Furthermore, it shows that society cannot lie if people know enough information about one another and leads to the question of individuals’ capability to endure the burden of complete self-awareness as a social person.

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Simmel’s work tends to stress distance as an inverse function of the effect between sentiments and conventional norms. His requirement for privacy in society has been discussed, especially in treating the role of segregation. However, Simmel has a dilemma in that human beings have the ability to assume multiple roles that differ and are contrary to the expectations.

Therefore, for social interaction to be made possible, public and private life must be similar and, at the same time, keep some distance. For example, a doctor takes care to give minimal information about the patients’ ailment, or a husband sets guards on his wife to ensure confidence by giving less irrelevant information. The distancing promotes the unity of the relationship itself through social distancing. Moreover, by using the Tuareg veil and evaluation of the social system, it is evident that social distance pervades all social relationships to varying degrees within different communities and individual relationships.

Moreover, the Simmel concept of social distancing demonstrates that an individual’s privacy and withdrawal is an acceptable qualities in society. Similarly, the Tuareg veil reveals that keeping some level of emotional distance is common in difficult relationships but must be perpetuated to maintain a generalized relationship.

For instance, delicate social situations require more social distance and removal of the actors, as seen in the doctor-patient interaction. Furthermore, the kind of social distance which is popular is the one that arises within certain categories of players whose behavior is expected to interact. Role-specific social distance is seen in how a husband treats his wife with polite consideration and affection. Unfortunately, the Tuareg veil is a generalized distance that has a tendency to diffuse social interactions completely.


In conclusion, double consciousness and stranger theories have influenced critical concepts in social sciences. Simmel and DuBois use their theories to examine further the social issues such as inequalities and racism. They both discuss the lack of belonging by outsiders within a society where they are tolerated but not accepted.

However, they differ on appreciation, with DuBois displaying blacks as the seven sons in society and Simmel finding them beneficial as outsiders within. Simmel also believes that the stranger’s role is historically connected to economic interactions. They hold certain objectivity and can be confessed to without the threat of judgment on the one who confesses. However, the stranger is not withdrawn from society completely, as shown through Simmel’s social distancing and awareness of social norms.


Appelrouth, S., & Edles, L. (2016). Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory: Text and readings (3rd ed.). Sage Publications.

DuBois, W. E. (2014). The souls of Black folk. Create Space Independent Publishing.

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Ritzer, G. (2011). Classical Sociological Theory (6th ed.) McGraw Hll.

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