As such, the stranger is near and far at the same time, as in any relationship based on merely universal human similarities. Between these two factors of nearness and distance, however, a peculiar tension arises, since the consciousness of having only the absolutely general in common has exactly the effect of putting a special emphasis on that which is not common. For a stranger to the country, the city, the race, and so on, what is stressed is again nothing individual, but alien origin, a quality which he has, or could have, in common with many other strangers. For this reason strangers are not really perceived as individuals, but as strangers of a certain type. Their remoteness is no less general than their nearness.
This form appears, for example, in so special a case as the tax levied on Jews in Frankfurt and elsewhere during the Middle Ages. Whereas the tax paid by Christian citizens varied according to their wealth at any given time, for every single Jew the tax was fixed once and for all. This amount was fixed because the Jew had his social position as a Jew, not as the bearer of certain objective contents. With respect to taxes every other citizen was regarded as possessor of a certain amount of wealth, and his tax could follow the fluctuations of his fortune. But the Jew as taxpayer was first of all a Jew, and thus his fiscal position contained an invariable element. This appears most forcefully, of course, once the differing circumstances of individual Jews are no longer considered, limited though this consideration is by fixed assessments, and all strangers pay exactly the same head tax.
Despite his being inorganically appended to it, the stranger is still an organic member of the group. Its unified life includes the specific conditioning of this element. Only we do not know how to designate the characteristic unity of this position otherwise than by saying that it is put together of certain amounts of nearness and of remoteness. Although both these qualities are found to some extent in all relationships, a special proportion and reciprocal tension between them produce the specific form of the relation to the "stranger."❖
Charles Horton Cooley ( 1864-1929) grew up at the University of Michigan, where his father taught law. There, he eventually became a presence in his own right, ascending after his studies to a professorship. From that position, he played a part in the early development of sociology in the United States. His books include Human Nature and the Social Order ( 1902), Social Organization ( 1909), and Social Process ( 1918). The following short selection presents his most famous concept, the looking-glass self, which still comes to mind when social theorists reconsider the social self.
Charles Horton Cooley ( 1902)
I remarked above that we think of the body as "I" when it comes to have social function or significance, as when we say "I am looking well to-day," or "I am taller than you are." We bring it into the social world, for the time being, and for that reason put____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Social Theory:The Multicultural and Classic Readings. Edition: 2nd. Contributors: Charles Lemert - Editor. Publisher: Westview Press. Place of publication: Boulder, CO. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 188.