Examination of Intercultural Communication Studies: Revisiting Georg Simmel’s Concept of “Strangers”
The study of Intercultural Communication in the United States emerged as an anthropological and interpretive epistemology. As university courses in the field became increasingly popular, most of the textbooks used in classrooms were written by White American or European male scholars, who have tended to be positivist in orientation and to rely heavily on secondary sources for information about other cultures. Part of this has been due to a misunderstanding and misapplication of Georg Simmel’s concept of “strangers,” meaning the co-existence and co-activity of others with us through interaction. Simmel’s concept, however, has been misinterpreted as implying distance, difference, or alienation. Western notions of dualism have worked congruently, but counterproductively, with the conception of strangers as Others, aliens, and foreigners. This hegemony of dualism — namely, an artificial division between “Us and Them” and “Similarities vs. Dissimilarities” — has come to dominate and dictate the field. This prevalence has occurred in the absence of women and gender in discussions of Intercultural Communication studies. Popular texts often appear to be Orientalist: interpreting other cultures and people as exotic and distant from the West. My paper will first analyze how Simmel’s concept of “stranger” has been distorted. I will reiterate and re-evaluate Simmel’s original ideas, apply them to intercultural encounters, and discuss how distant current Intercultural Communication studies have grown from Simmel’s ideas.
Keywords: Diversity, Gender, Pedagogy, Hegemony, Intercultural Communication
Dr. Kimiko Akita
Assistant Professor, School of Communication, University of Central Florida