Changing Solidarity

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In some areas of our public life a shared sense of civility seems

to have been delegitimated as a binding norm we can reliably

invoke; that is, not merely that people behave uncivilly, but that

the charge “That was uncivil” carries little or no weight. So I

think there is adecline in civility and that this decline matters.

(Lawrence Cahoone 2000b: 145)

Contemporary solidarity is different from what it has been in earlier

times. Broad societal changes have had an impact on the forms and manifestations

of solidarity: the individualization process, the decline of religiosity

in Western societies, the economic reforms that have taken place

in many welfare states, changing patterns in family life, changing gender

roles, the development of the information and communication technology,

and, last but not least, the migration processes occurring throughout

the world. As a consequence of immigration new religious and political

identities present themselves to the inhabitants of the Western world,

giving rise to new questions and concerns about solidarity. These societal

changes do not necessarily cause a decline in solidarity, as is often

assumed. In certain domains solidarity may increase; in others it may

merely adopt a new shape. In this chapter, I briefly examine some of

the main dimensions that may be involved in the transformation in

solidarity: individualization, diversification, and globalization. Mainly

cultural critics have reflected on these societal transformations, but their

conclusions only incidentally extend to the consequences for social ties

and solidarity. This is understandable because it is almost impossible

to connect broad societal changes causally to changes in solidarity. The

societal changes are too complex and solidarity is too multifarious to

allow clear causal statements. In the second part of this chapter I address

some changes in contemporary solidarity and, where possible, support

these with empirical data.

A first and overriding societal change is the individualization process.

This development has its starting point in the nineteenth century (although

its roots go back to a more distant past) and has been reflected

on by classical sociologists like Durkheim and Simmel. In their view one

of the consequences of individualization is that solidarity would become

more abstract.With the modernization of society people would come to

participate in an ever larger number of partly overlapping social circles.

This would enlarge their individual possibilities to choose; loosen the

former tightly knit ties of family, neighborhood, and church; and weaken

the formerly existing solidarity patterns.

A second and related development is diversification: of identities, preferences,

convictions, and commitments. It is assumed that the former

continuity and stability of human identity are disappearing, and that the

sharing of beliefs, roots, or traditions with fellow human beings is becoming

less self-evident. Although modern individuals are more capable

than ever to assert their own selves, they are at the same time experiencing

a growing insecurity about what is going on in society, socially, culturally,

and materially. The presence of an increasing number of “strangers” in

modern Western societies adds substantially to this uncertainty. Hospitality

toward strangers, once a moral obligation and a daily practice all

over the world, has lost its former meaning as an expression of solidarity.

The third change concerns the globalization process, the widening of

political, economic, technological, social, and cultural borders allowing

for worldwide interconnections between organizations and people that

create new possibilities and exigencies for solidarity. One manifestation

of this development is the new communication technology, in particular

the Internet, which creates new networks between millions of people.