Affective and Instrumental Bases of Solidarity

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According to Durkheim the nature of solidarity is the central problem

of sociology. This is the thread that runs through his whole work: what

are the ties uniting people to each other, he wondered in 1888, five years

before he wrote De la division du travail social, where he elaborates his

theory of solidarity (Lukes 1973).

Durkheim’s predecessors had already developed some ideas about the

social texture of society. In a work that predates Durkheim by a few

decades, Auguste Comte, for instance, describes the social equilibrium in

modern society as the result of the division of labor and occupational

specialization. But to Comte the principle of differentiation and specialization

also is a threat to feelings of community and togetherness. In contrast

to Comte, Herbert Spencer emphasizes the element of self-interest

involved in solidarity. In accordance with the tradition of British utilitarianism

and the thinking of Adam Smith, he regards social cohesion as

the result of the undisturbed interplay of individual interests; no shared

beliefs, norms, or state regulations are needed to realize cohesion and solidarity.

TЁonnies, the first to analyze the transformation of solidarity in the

nineteenth century, describes how in the transition from Gemeinschaft to

Gesellschaft the traditional community values as they were embodied in

the small-scale social unities of family, neighborhood, and village were

substituted by individualized feelings and needs. In the large-scale centralized

nation-state, social relationships had become dominated by economic

rationality and free competition between individual interests. In

contrast to Spencer, TЁonnies presents ag loomy picture of the rising capitalist

society, which could only be kept under control by a strong state.

Durkheim agrees with TЁonnies’s division into two types of society,

and also with his global characterization of Gemeinschaft. But while

TЁonnies describes Gesellschaft as a mechanical aggregate, Durkheim does

not conceive of premodern societies as more “organic” than contemporary

ones. According to him collective activity in more modern societies

is as spontaneous and natural as in more small-scale communities. In

the end Durkheim reverses TЁonnies’s terminology: he reserves the term

“mechanical solidarity” for the human ties that characterize traditional

societies, while using “organic solidarity” to describe modern forms of

community.He explains his choice for these terms as follows: mechanical

solidarity “does not signify that it is produced by mechanical and artificial

means. We call it that only by analogy to the cohesion which unites the

elements of an inanimate body, as opposed to that which makes a unity

out of the elements of a living body.” In the case of mechanical solidarity

“the social molecules . . . can act together only in the measure that they

have no actions of their own, as the molecules of inorganic bodies” (1964a

[1893]: 130).

Mechanical solidarity corresponds to a “system of homogeneous segments

that are similar to one another” (1964a [1893]: 181). Society comprises

such segments (families, clans, and territorial districts), which

are characterized by a very low degree of interdependence. There is no

fundamental distinction between individuals. Individual conscience is

dependent on the collective conscience, and individual identity is a part

of group identity. In mechanical solidarity human behavior is regulated

by the shared norms, sentiments, and values that form together the conscience

collective. This type of solidarity is reflected in the application of

severe penal sanctions – “repressive law” – to deviant behavior or the

violation of norms. Religion is a dominant factor in social life, and the

codes of morality are concrete and specific.

In more modern societies organic solidarity is gradually replacing mechanical

solidarity. Organic solidarity is based on individual difference.

The increased division of labor and occupational specialization at the

end of the nineteenth century brought about a differentiation in societal

tasks and functions comparable to the different functions of the bodily organs,

which analogy explains Durkheim’s “organic solidarity.” Durkheim

assumes a direct relationship between the degree of specialization of societal

functions and the extent of social cohesion: the more labor is divided

and the activity of each is specialized, “the stronger is the cohesion which

results from this solidarity” (1964a [1893]: 131). Or, in his organ terminology,

“the unity of the organism is as great as the individuation of the

parts is more marked” (131). There is ahig h level of mutual dependency.

Legal regulations determine the nature of and relationships between the

different societal tasks and functions. As the division of labor extends,

the conscience collective weakens: its content becomes increasingly secular

and human-oriented, and morality is becoming more abstract and

universal. It is important to bear in mind that Durkheim regards the

distinction between the solidarity types as an analytical one and, in fact,

as two aspects of the same reality that are rarely entirely separate.

In line with TЁonnies’s distinction between Gemeinschaft and GesellschaftMaxWeber

distinguishes between communal and associative social

relationships. When people’s action – either individual or collective – is

based on the subjective feeling of togetherness,Weber speaks of communal

relationships. This feeling may stemfromaffection or from tradition,

but it is essential that more than the mere feeling of togetherness is involved.

“It is only when this feeling leads to amutual orientation of their

behaviour to each other that a social relationship arises between them”

(1947 [1922]: 138). Associative relationships are at issue when the orientation

of action springs from a rationally motivated correspondence

between interests. This rationality may be inspired either by certain absolute

values or by instrumental and utilitarian considerations. An example

is market exchange, consisting of a compromise between opposed

but complementary interests. Another example is the purely voluntary

association between individuals on the basis of their self-interest; or the

voluntary association of individuals sharing certain values.

Different from associative relationships, communal relationships

have an affective, emotional, or traditional basis – for example, religious

fraternities, erotic relationships, personal loyalty, or the esprit de corps

within the military. The most typical communal relationship is the family,

according to Weber. Most social relationships possess this affective

component but are at the same time determined by associational factors.

“No matter how calculating and hard-headed the ruling considerations

in such a social relationship – as that of a merchant to his customers –

may be, it is quite possible for it to involve emotional values which transcend

its utilitarian significance” (1947 [1922]: 137). Like DurkheimWeber

stresses the impossibility of ast rict distinction between the different types

of social relationship: they are ideal types. In everyday practice any social

relationship that transcends the pursuit of immediate interests and

is of a longer duration generates enduring social bonds, which cannot

be reduced to mere utilitarian considerations. The reverse is also true:

within communal relationships actions may sometimes be inspired by

utilitarian motives.

The American sociologist Talcott Parsons is clearly inspired by these

founding fathers of sociology (1952, 1977). For instance, Durkheim’s emphasis

on the contribution of common values to the integration of social

systems can be recognized in The Social System (1952). In this book

Parsons distinguishes loyalty from solidarity. He considers loyalty the

noninstitutionalized precursor of solidarity: the individual motivation

to conform to the interests or expectations of another person. Only

when these expectations have become an institutionalized obligation

can we speak of solidarity. Inasmuch as these roles are institutionalized,

solidarity with the collectivity of which one is a part is involved.

Also Parsons returns to TЁonnies’s terminology in his differentiation between

certain types of collectivity: “A collectivity in which expressive

interests have primacy in its orientation to continual action in concert

may . . . be called a Gemeinschaft; one in which instrumental interests

have primacy is an ‘organization’” (1952: 100). LikeDurkheim andWeber,

Parsons acknowledges the possibility of mixtures between Gemeinschaft

and Gesellschaft, for instance, in relationships between the incumbents

of certain professional roles and their clients: universalism, functional

specificity, and affective neutrality – characteristics of Gesellschaft – go

along with the obligation implied in the profession to serve the community,

irrespective of any financial considerations.

Parsons does not develop a full-blown theory of solidarity. However,

he does have a clear-cut opinion on the basis of solidarity: “I should like

to suggest that the primary ‘cement’ which makes such groups solidary is

affective ties” (1952: 157). In the process of socialization within the family

the child develops its first affective ties. This is the basis of the formation

of an internalized capacity to affectivity that can be transferred to objects

outside the family. Affectivity is, according to Parsons, a “generalized

medium” comparable with money, power, and influence.

From these various sociological accounts two main types of solidarity

come to the fore, whose bases are only seemingly in opposition to each

other. They are brought together in the following scheme:

Gemeinschaft Gesellschaft

mechanical solidarity organic solidarity

communal relationships associative relationships

expressive relationships instrumental relationships

One may feel tempted to associate the left column with preindustrial

society in which small homogeneous communities are tied together by

strong feelings of solidarity, and to regard the right column as the prototype

of modern solidarity as it has evolved in industrialized society.

The underlying assumptions about human nature involve, on the one

hand, homo sociologicus, the individual as embedded in small-scale social

relationships, and whose solidary behavior is based on internalized

moral obligations and, on the other hand, homo economicus, the rational,

market-oriented individual, whose moral codes are abstract and universal.

Solidarity is synonymous, here,with promoting the collective interest

of mutually dependent individuals.

As we have seen, such a simplified dichotomy is not found in the

works of the classical authors just discussed. Although most of them

distinguish different types of solidarity, they all emphasize that these

types are not mutually exclusive and, indeed, often occur together in

varying combinations. The idea that the two types of solidarity do not

exclude each other seems to have been lost in more modern theories, as I

argue in a moment, after discussing some other classical anthropological

and sociological contributions.