The Stranger: An Essay in Social Psychology Author(s): Alfred Schuetz Source: The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 49, No. 6 (May, 1944), pp. 499-507 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2771547 Accessed: 12/05/2010 17:46
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THE STRANGER: AN ESSAY IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGYALFRED SCHUETZ
ABSTRACT The cultural pattern peculiar to a social group functions for its members as an unquestioned scheme of reference. It determines the strata of relevance for their "thinking as usual" in standardized situations and the degree of knowledge required for handling the tested "recipes" involved. The approaching stranger, however, does not share certain basic assumptions whichalone guarantee the functioning of these recipes. He has to place in question what seems unquestionable to the in-group and cannot even put his trust in a vague knowledge about the general style of the pattern but needs explicit knowledge of its elements. This entails a dislocation of the stranger's habitual system of relevance. A thorough modification of his schemes of orientation andinterpretation and of his concepts of anonymity, typicality, and chance is the prerequisite of any possible adjustment.
The present paper intends to study in terms of a general theory of interpretation the typical situation in which a stranger finds himself in his attempt to interpret the cultural pattern of a social group which he approachesand to orient himself within it. For our present purposes theterm "stranger" shall mean an adult individual of our times and civilization who tries to be permanently accepted or at least tolerated by the group which he approaches. The outstanding example for the social situation under scrutiny is that of the immigrant,and the following analyses are, as a matter of convenience, worked out with this instance in view. But by no means is their validityrestricted to this special case. The applicant for membership in a closed club, the prospective bridegroom who wants to be admitted to the girl's family, the farmer's son who enters college, the city-dweller who settles in a ruralenvironment,the "selectee" who joins the Army, the family of the war worker who moves into a boom town-all are strangersaccordingto the definitionjust given, although in thesecases the typical "'crisis" that the immigrant undergoes may assume milder forms or even be entirely absent. Intentionally excluded, however, from the present investigation are certain cases the inclusion of which would require some qualificationsin our statements: (a) the visitor or guest who intends to establish a merely transitory contact with the group; (b) children or primitives; and (c)...
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