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21 Eylül 2011 Çarşamba

Far to Touch, Near to See: "Stranger" in Georg Simmel

The spatial relationships according to Simmel constitute both condition and symbol of the human relations, and he categorizes the people into three in accordance with their “place” and “role” in the spatial relations; wanderers, strangers and natives. Wanderer is the one with maximum amount of liberty from the space whereas the native is just the opposite in order to establish “the unity”. The stranger, on the other hand, holds the characteristics of two at the same time. His belonging to “the unity” occurs only in the present and rest of the time because he was not there from the beginning and he will not be there at the end, therefore he travels between present and future –inside of the group and outside of the group. He has to know “better” about “now” –the group– otherwise the place which he occupies in “now” will not remain; he is responsible for his actions. Besides knowing better, the stranger analyzes better and understands better the “meanings” of the symbols and symbolic relationships thanks to his mobility. This remoteness and nearness existing at the same time, Simmel says, attributes him objectivity and involvement, also openness by which the strange can bring the changes to the society.

Max Weber was referring to term verstehen as a method of sociology to understand the meanings and symbols in a society. This kind of understanding can be done by hiding “the self” in the group to be objective, but at the same time, by counting “the self” as a member of the group (empathy) to interpret the symbols, values and meanings of the actions. Unlike, i-am-a-camera kind of surveying technique, verstehen can tell the differences between two same actions which were happened by two different causes such as, coughing because of illness and coughing because you want to warn someone near to you. One can only tell the difference between them, when s/he uses a group person’s point of view. I think Simmel’s stranger, in this sense, is human form of Weber’s verstehen.

Besides from what I’ve explained above about the stranger, Simmel showed me an interesting clue that is helpful to “verstehen” the “founding fathers” of nations. They were truly strangers who, at least, tried to establish and develop nation for a group of people and the kind of travel that they were doing can be described as “having the roots in the group and growing the branches to the outside of the group”. It is true that they were not belonging to the group from the beginning, but they have overcome this problem thanks to this kind of travel. In Turkey for instance, Ataturk greatly fits to this pattern even though I still consider him as a dictator. He was not born in the borders of today’s Turkey, but he understood and interpreted the meaning of Turkey, in addition his west based “modernization” attempts indicates the direction to which he was travelling and the time as well. If we look at Turkey today, the population of strangers has extended the ethnic minority groups like Kurds and Romans, religious groups like Nurcus, people in academics, immigrants, bureaucrats, managers and directors have been involved into the population. I can confidently say that, the ones who criticized the stranger theory because of the impossibility of such persons, here we see nearest examples of them which are actually far from their “in-groups”.

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