Contemporary Solidarity

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Whereas the first seven chapters highlighted various classical and more

modern theories on gift giving as well as solidarity, in Chapter 8 the focus

was on changes in contemporary solidarity. Various cultural critics

have propounded rather gloomy views about the consequences of the

individualization process for contemporary citizenship. Individuals are

thought to be less committed to politics as an institution and to the

attainments of the welfare state; they are assumed to be less able to engage

in longer-term projects and relationships, and their life course has

become more fragmented. As a consequence of individualization and

the increased diversity of social and cultural identities and involvements

people’s uncertainty about their own identity and place in the world has

grown. This uncertainty may increase still more, due to the arrival of

“strangers” in manyWestern societies. In addition, the 1960s ha s crea ted

a self that is more assertive than ever before and that tends to reinforce

itself above other selves. Against these possibly negative developments,

new opportunities to form social ties and develop solidarity have been

created by the globalization process. In the second part of this chapter

the attention shifted to more empirically based changes in solidarity in

Western societies. The picture proved varied: some forms of traditional

solidarity have diminished but others are on the rise, and also new forms

of solidarity can be observed. It is therefore impossible to speak in general

terms about a decrease or increase of solidarity. The many new initiatives

and the solid base of many traditional forms of solidarity do not give

rise to gloominess about contemporary solidarity, as we concluded in

Chapter 8. The observed decline in civil solidarity, though, does warrant

some concern.

At this point,we return to the central question of this book: howcan the

combined insights derived from the theories on the gift and on solidarity

contribute to our understanding of both the positive and the negative

manifestations of contemporary solidarity? From the anthropological

and sociological literature four relevant dimensions emerge: recognition

of otherness, social distance, motives for solidarity, and reciprocity.

Solidarity and the Gift