The many meanings of “foreigner”

October 24, 2012

By Emily Laidley ’14

A foreigner can be much more than a stranger in a strange land.

Guillaume Le Blanc, a French philosopher and professor, argued as much during his lecture “Who is Called a Foreigner” this month at Bradley.

Le Blanc, whose visited with the University’s Department of Philosophy, said that the term “foreigner” is one that can be applied not only to those who emigrate, but to anyone considered an “other,” such as the homeless or very poor. For him, the issue of “otherness” is a multifaceted one that has to do with the majority’s treatment of those considered apart from national norms. 

During his talk Le Blanc said he is wary of the power of naming people as “foreigners” or “others” since they can be stereotyped and unable to escape the restrictive label until they fully assimilate and accept a society’s core values as their own.

Le Blanc believes that assimilation into a new society requires foreigners to take on "the main values of the society and to eliminate one’s own values. Assimilation here begins with negation of one’s own identity.”

It’s this extreme form of necessary assimilation that Le Blanc sees as the problem, since individuals have to shed their past identity and accept a new one. He believes that a new brand of hospitality is needed to help solve this problem of assimilation. Society should listen to and welcome people from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds, he said.

“I think for me the main function of hospitality is taking into account the voice of a stranger. The new form of hospitality gives [the foreigner] a way of speaking, some place to participate in his own place in society,” he said.

While he accepts that there will always be those who are considered “others” in societies, Le Blanc hopes people can take their different voices into account without feeling the need to make “foreigners” conform to a society’s own values.

A professor at France’s University of Bordeaux, Le Blanc is also affiliated with the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. The French Consulate as well as Bradley’s Intellectual and Cultural Activities Committee sponsored his lecture.