Solidarity and the Gift

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Not satisfied with a society fashioned by uncoordinated individual

efforts, one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments is

to translate egocentric community concerns into collective values.

The desire for amodus vivendi fair to everyone may be

regarded as an evolutionary outgrowth of the need to get along

and cooperate, adding an ever-greater insight into the actions

that contribute to or interfere with this objective.

(Frans deWaal 1996: 207)

The classical sociological question about the bases of social order is of

great current interest. In our times there is a concern about the fate

of solidarity and social ties similar to that at the end of the nineteenth

century. In both eras significant social transformations were presumably

affecting the “cement of society.” In the preceding chapters we returned

to the works of the classical anthropologists and sociologists, as well as to

more modern theories. Once again the classics proved invaluable to our

understanding of the complexity of the current “problem of order.”

It is remarkable that so few attempts have been made to bridge anthropological

and sociological theories on social ties and solidarity. In

the same period that Durkheim described the transformation from mechanical

to organic solidarity, anthropologists conducted detailed field

studies about the origin of human societies in diverging cultures: from

NorthAmerican Indian tribes to theMaori tribes inNew Zealand and the

inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands. Whereas the sociologists emphasized

the shared values and norms and the new forms of mutual dependency

that the modernizing society brought about, the anthropologists

conceived of solidarity as the consequence of patterns of reciprocity between

individuals, arising from the exchange of gifts and services.

In this chapter we investigate what the conditions are under which

contemporary solidarity comes into being and has positive or negative

consequences. In addition, an attempt is made to understand and explain

the essence of the transformation solidarity has gone through. But first,

we look back upon the preceding chapters, in order to see where their

main conclusions have brought us.