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In everyday usage and in dictionary definitions, the term stranger is given two different, though hardly incompatible, meanings: The stranger may be either someone who is unknown to someone else (the biographical stranger) or someone who is the “other,” the alien (the cultural stranger). Lines of research in urban social science have tended toward a similar divergence and, also like dictionaries, have emphasized the cultural over the biographical. While both lines of research been heavily influenced by the writings of the German sociologist, Georg Simmel, other scholars have also contributed to the foundational writings and thus have helped to shape the ways the stranger concept has been applied. In work focusing on the cultural stranger, the companion is Alfred Schutz, a German philosopher.

The Cultural Stranger

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