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Simmel & Mao on Root of Identity

Both Georg Simmel and Mao Tse Tung believed that the root of identity lay in contradiction. SimmelÆs strangerÆs identity is born from the contradiction that he represents, being simultaneously within and without society. Although he is not part of the society, his very identity depends on that fact, and he views the established group with freshened eyes. Mao, for his part, also believed that identity was rooted in contradiction. For Mao this contradiction, given the proper conditions, could juxtapose itself, just as the proletariat, given the right circumstances, could overthrow the bourgeoisie.

Georg SimmelÆs conception of individuals is rooted in their position in society. For Simmel, a person becomes what he is as a result of his interactions and relationships with others in society who assign him to a particular social archetype and expect him to act and behave in certain manners. A personÆs characteristics are thus, according to Simmel, an attribute of the overarching social structure in which the person finds himself.

This relationship between an individual and society can clearly be seen in SimmelÆs ôThe Stranger.ö According to Simmel, the stranger is not merely a wanderer ôwho comes today and goes tomorrowö with no structured position in society and no relationship to those whom he does not know. Instead, ôHe is fixed within a particular spatial group . . . but his position . . . is determined . . . by the fact that he does not belong to it from the beginning," and that he may leave again. The stranger has a place within the group, but because he has not belonged to it from its inception the imports certain individual qualities to the group that do not exist within the group itself. SimmelÆs stranger, then, is assigned a role in society that no other member of the group can play, being simultaneously within and without the group.

This partial involvement in the group gives the stranger a...

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Simmel & Mao on Root of Identity. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 06:17, February 25, 2017, from