Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

Social Geometry and Social Distancing

Velga Vevere

Thursday 2 December 2021

11:30 - 12:10

Zoom 1-2

The problems of social geometry in the sense of spatial constellations and intersubjectivity have been addressed by a number of phenomenologists and sociologists: E. Husserl (Thing and Space: Lectures of 1907; The Origin of Geometry), A. Shutz (On Phenomenology and Social Relations; Social Reality within Reach of Direct Experience; with T. Luckmann: The Structures of the Life-World), G. Simmel (The Stranger, Sociology of Space; On the Spatial Projections of Social Forms), J. Aho (The Things of the World. Social Phenomenology), and others. However different these approaches may be, they have something in common, namely, the recognition that there, within societal relations, exists an element of strangeness and/or distancing (in Husserl’s life-worlds, Shutzean social reality, Aho’s phenomenological anthropology). This aspect becomes especially significant in the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. The current article aims at researching the phenomena of spatial constellation and social distancing in the light of the current crisis. The questions, here, would be the following: What does it mean to be a stranger while being together? What does it mean to be together while being remote from others (like working remotely)? What does it mean to be a stranger to oneself? What effect does the act of physical self-isolation have upon our self-perception? In order to answer these questions, I propose to look into G. Simmel’s conception of the stranger. To identify someone as a stranger, he or she must be familiar enough to make a difference. If there is no distance, then the difference, otherness, foreignness disappears, we see only the already known, the familiar. On the other hand, if the distance is too great, the stranger merges with the landscape, disappears, becomes unknown, unthinkable, remains outside the field of individually existing or potential experience. The stranger, insofar as he is accepted, still retains the indelible mark of otherness. Consequently, otherness (strangeness/difference) is inherent in all human relationships to a greater or lesser extent. Other important concepts to be analyzed are A. Shutz’s direct we-experience and J. Aho’s descriptions of the social phenomena from the I-perspective, the goal of which is to reduce the individual experience to the prototypical experience, to the ideal essence. Thus, the structure of experience is defined by the relations I-me (introspection), I-us (introspection), I-you (otherness, intersubjectivity), and I-it (experience of the things of the world).