Changes in Contemporary Solidarity

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In the foregoing section a rather pessimistic tone has sometimes resounded:

some of the authors cited seem to have a particularly keen eye

for developments pointing to adecline. As AlanWolfe (2000) has rightly

pointed out, statements about a supposed social decline are problematic

for various reasons. First, there is a problem of definition: what counts

exactly as social decline? Second, there is a problem of measurement: in

many cases it is very difficult to know whether certain acts are increasing

because we do not have points of comparison with earlier periods. Third,

generalization is problematic: on the basis of anecdotal information concerning

particular behavior, generalizations are made about the state of

society. Complaining about the moral quality of modern society might

lead toexcessive criticism of contemporary culture.Moreover, accounts of

social decline always carry the risk of ignoring other developments that are

of a qualitative rather than a quantitative nature. Solidarity may change

in quality or nature, instead of being in decline. These considerations

tempted Wolfe even “to want the word decline banished from the literature.

At least among social scientists notions of decline cause a reversal of

the proper way to examine a hypothesis” (2000: 130). Now we shift our

attention to more empirically based changes – in traditional solidarity,

local and global solidarity, and civil solidarity.