Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

be a woman in such an age carries with it a privilege and an opportunity never implied before. But to be a woman of the Negro race in America, and to be able to grasp the deep significance of the possibilities of the crisis, is to have a heritage, it seems to me, unique in the ages. In the first place, the race is young and full of the elasticity and hopefulness of youth. All its achievements are before it. It does not look on the masterly triumphs of nineteenth century civilization with that blase world-weary look which characterizes the old washed out and worn out races which have already, so to speak, seen their best days.

Said a European writer recently: "Except the Sclavonic, the Negro is the only original and distinctive genius which has yet to come to growth--and the feeling is to cherish and develop it."

Everything to this race is new and strange and inspiring. There is a quickening of its pulses and a glowing of its self-consciousness. Aha, I can rival that! I can aspire to that! I can honor my name and vindicate my race! Something like this, it strikes me, is the enthusiasm which stirs the genius of young Africa in America; and the memory of past oppression and the fact of present attempted repression only serve to gather momentum for its irrepressible powers. Then again, a race in such a stage of growth is peculiarly sensitive to impressions. Not the photographer's sensitized plate is more delicately impressionable to outer influences than is this high strung people here on the threshold of a career.

What a responsibility then to have the sole management of the primal lights and shadows! Such is the colored woman's office. She must stamp weal or woe on the coming history of this people. May she see her opportunity and vindicate her high prerogative.❖

Georg Simmel ( 1858-1918), though he never enjoyed a significant position in a university, was a founder (with Weber and Ferdinand Toennies) of the German Sociological Society. Simmel was a regular participant in Max and Marianne Weber's Heidelberg circle of intellectual friends. He was esteemed by many of the luminaries of German intellectual life, including Edmund Husserl and Heinrich Rickert. Yet he lived the life of an independent bourgeois intellectual, which earned him the respect denied by the university establishment. Today, his writings are read for their unusual theoretical insight into the inner workings of life in the modern world. The following selection illustrates Simmel's simple style and disarming ability to describe an important character in all social groups--the stranger--a character who became all the more important in the modern world, especially when viewed from the perspective of Europe's stranger within, the Jew.


The Stranger

Georg Simmel ( 1908)

If wandering, considered as a state of detachment from every given point in space, is the conceptual opposite of attachment to any point, then the sociological form of

____________________
Excerpt from Donald N. Levine, ed., On Individuality and Social Forms: Selected Writings ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), pp. 143-149. Copyright 1971 by The University of Chicago. Reprinted by permission.

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