Traditional Solidarity

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Since Durkheim’s account of the change of mechanical into organic solidarity,

the supposed decline of the binding force of family, neighborhood,

and church – sources of mechanical solidarity par excellence – has been

much discussed. It is certainly true that the extent to which mutual support

was traditionally exchanged within families and neighborhoods has

diminished, although, aswe have seen in Chapter 7, a firmbasis of familial

solidarity has survived (Hareven 1995). Inmany European countries most

people still believe that the younger generation should contribute, financially

or otherwise, to a decent standard of living for older or ill family

members, and informal care is still supplied on a large scale. As noted

in Chapter 6, traditional forms of solidarity – giving time to volunteer

work and providing care to people outside one’s own household – are still

very much alive in the Netherlands. According to recent Dutch figures

no substantial decline of received informal care has occurred between

1979 and 1999, although this was expected as a consequence of women’s

greater labor participation (SCP-Report 2002). The abstract and anonymous

solidarity of giving to charity and to humanitarian goals is even

increasing in the Netherlands, as we have seen. The decline in religiosity

inWestern society has undoubtedly diminished its binding force. In 1960

24% of the Dutch population said they were irreligious, but around the

turn of the century this has increased to 60% (SCP-Report 1998, 2002).

In theWestern world new forms of spirituality and collective belief have

arisen, but these are often more individualistic and exert a lesser group

pressure compared with earlier forms of religion.

In the political commitment of Dutch citizens a double tendency seems

to be at work. On the one hand, the membership in traditional forms of

political organization such as political parties and labor unions has been

declining steadily – but seems to be on the rise again since 2003 – a nd

citizens are voting less often. This trend is also visible in other European

countries (Zoll 2000).Whereas in 1965 9.7%of the Dutch still belonged to

a political party, this share has been reduced to 2.4%in1996 (SCP-Report

1998). At the beginning of the 1980s 39% of the population was a union

member, but at the end of the 1990s this has declined to 30%(SCP-Report

2000). On the other hand, citizens indicate that their political interest

has grown (van den Brink 2002). They increasingly agree with certain

democratic liberties. Also political solidarity as expressed in participation

in action groups or demonstrations has increased since 1977 (Dekker


Finally, collective expressions of solidarity without explicit political

aims still occur regularly and may even be increasing; Durkheim (1964b

[1895]) called these events “social currents.” In 2002 the Netherlands has

been alarmed by the politically inspired murder of the populist, rightwing

politician Pim Fortuyn. The public expressed its emotions of sorrow

and anger in large marches, while carrying candles and flowers. Other

examples are the “White Marches” in Belgium, expressing compassion

with the victims of child abuse and murder by Marc Dutroux, and the

silent marches to mourn the victims of public violence. Contemporary

citizens have not so much become less politically engaged but express

their commitment differently (de Hart 1999; van den Brink 2002).

Local and Global Solidarity

Looking at local forms of solidarity, a multitude of new types present

themselves. One fascinating example is the Local Exchange Trade System,

or LETS. In LETS participants exchange services and goods without

paying each other money. Instead one can “earn” and “pay” by means of

exchange points. After the system was initiated in Canada in 1983, it ha s

since begun to growworldwide. In Europe LETS first developed in Britain

during the 1990s. At the start of the new millennium in Britain about five

hundred systems are operating. In the Netherlands by 2000 there are

about one hundred systems, each system consisting of twenty-five to fifty

participants. Dutch research has demonstrated that within one system

yearly three hundred transactions take place, and 10,800 units are transacted

(Hoeben 2000). Reciprocity, or delayed reciprocity, is an essential

element in LETS: I do something for you and, although you may not

do something in return immediately, at a future moment somebody will

do something for me. The ideaof reinforcing community by exchanging

goods and services is crucial to LETS: exchange is promoting social connectedness

and stimulates the community feeling that is believed to be on

the decline in modern society. Reciprocity, solidarity, and connectedness

are key concepts in LETS.

Several other forms of local and informal solidarity have arisen in

Western society. To say that these forms are completely new would not be

correct, as they have always existed.However, their number seems to have

increased and their focus may be new. We can think of the well-known

self-help groups, having their origins in the United States, and spreading

all over Europe since the 1970s. Since the 1980s a nd 1990s new forms of

reciprocal aid have been initiated in the Netherlands and in many other

countries (Zoll 2000), of which the buddy system – homosexuals helping

fellow homosexuals having AIDS – is the best known. Former psychiatric

patients, delinquents, handicapped, or chronically ill people help others

who share their fate. An interesting aspect of the way aspirant buddies are

trained is the explicit recognition of the element of self-interest involved

in providing support and help to a partner in misfortune (Komter 2000).

The underlying idea of these projects is that solidarity is not effective

anymorewhen an exclusive appeal is made to the altruism and selflessness

of volunteers; only when it is clear that they have something to gain from

providing help themselveswill they make their contribution to solidarity.

Thus the reciprocity aspect of solidarity – always a part of it but remaining

implicit for long – is made explicit and visible.

Another relatively new form of solidarity, also based on reciprocity, is

located in the daily interaction among citizens in their own neighborhoods.

In some of the big cities in the Netherlands the local authorities

have initiated projects aimed at improving the quality of life within

particular urban, oftenmulticulturally populated areas, characterized by

high levels of unemployment, poverty, poor housing conditions, criminality,

and mutual distrust. By creating the material and institutional

conditions enabling citizens to invest in the quality of their own immediate

surroundings, the local authorities hope to promote mutual reciprocity

and solidarity. Enabling people to make their own choices and

to realize their autonomy is viewed as a promising strategy to enhance

mutual trust and foster community feelings. For instance, in Rotterdam,

a project called City etiquette aims at enhancing public courtesy andmutual

respect, and in the city of Gouda the authorities have proclaimed the

“ten city rules” with asimila r purpose.

Also on a global level solidarity takes on a new shape. The era of globalization

and the new means of communication open up new possibilities

for developing shared interests, forms of community, and solidarity in

transnational social movements (Smith, Chatfield, and Pagnucco 1997;

Cohen and Rai 2000). Examples are international nongovernmental organizations,

theWorldwide Fund forNature, and the Friends of the Earth.

World summits are organized on the environment, social development,

and population issues. On the Internet worldwide chat and information

exchange create new alliances and partnerships.New interest groups

manifest their political views, or other convictions and programs, and

initiate new appeals to solidarity. Due to the diversity and rapid development

of these new forms of global solidarity, it is impossible to formulate

a general assessment of their impact. But it is beyond doubt that the new

global solidarity has created unprecedented possibilities for developing

new identifications and social ties.