It has been said that when strangers begin to accept each other because they experience themselves as strange, they start a promising development. This is a rather surprising thought. If I do not understand myself, how should I be able to understand other people? But since understanding and acceptance are not necessarily intertwined, social life may work anyway, in spite of the value and function that “understanding” has for the definition of cultures. Non-understanding is often perceived as one of the ways to demarcate the boundaries between different cultures. The Other is not regarded as of the same kind as you, since his or her behaviour is unintelligible. But this is too simple. Maybe it is also possible to see non-understanding as an essential part of every society, even among friends and relatives, and in that case what we call “culture” could be analysed as a universal way of disguising strangeness and make it endurable.

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Ehn, B., (2005) “Self-Mystification”, Ethnologia Europaea 35(1), p.132-135. doi:

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  • This article was previously published by Museum Tusculanum Press.


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Billy Ehn (Universität Umeå)



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